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Keeping it clean

Photo credit: Adan Garcia on Flickr. Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License.

Is the life you’re pursuing the life you want? by Erin Doland on unclutterer.com is an interesting read if you replace ‘life’ with ‘software application’ or ‘operating system’…. especially here:

What are you doing on autopilot? What are you doing only because it’s a traditional behavior?… If you don’t know why you’re moving in a new direction, if you can’t envision a remarkable life for yourself, you will struggle with every attempt you make to get rid of clutter.

Getting rid of stuff you have and don’t need

What you don’t include in your UI / application / OS is just as important as what you do. I recently went through an apartment de-cluttering. Yes, the new absence of many things, overall, has improved my apartment greatly. Maybe this will work for your application as well? Certainly, no one wants their application to relate to these sorts of monstrosities!

It can be hard to purge the vestiges or mistakes of your application’s past. A lot of ‘uncluttering’ literature consistently suggests the following method of removing items from your home: take a photo of it, put it into storage for a while, unearth the box a year later after clearly not having used it over that period of time, and get rid of it! Hmm… for an application, maybe take a screenshot, take a code snapshot, make a wiki memorial, and move on perhaps?

Preventing stuff you don’t need from entering in the first place

At least in American consumerist culture, we’re convinced to buy, buy, buy, and it’s hard to think about practical considerations such as:

  • Do I really have room on my bookshelves for this new DVD?
  • When I’m done reading this book, am I going to keep it? Where is it going to end up?
  • If I buy this cute new place setting, what will become of my old one?
  • This pair of shoes is quite cute, but what outfits that I already own would it go with? Which of the 30 pairs I shoes I already own am I going to purge to make room for it?
  • If I put this new kitchen gadget on my countertop, am I going to have any more space to prepare dinner?
  • While it seems like a great idea right now and I’m totally pumped to do this now: do I really have the time and motivation to use this software to learn Arabic in 30 days? Where and when will I use Arabic if I could actually speak it?

If only those questions had been asked before the thing ended up in our homes, right? Similarly to how it’s far easier to keep your home an enjoyable, uncluttered place to be if you try to prevent the stuff from entering your home in the first place (since the pain of getting rid of the stuff, emotionally, financially, and environmentally is much greater), it may be easier to keep your software clean and more usable by asking some tough questions up front before adding new features.

What to remove? What to keep?

Photo credit: simonsterg on Flickr. Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic License.

The challenge is that you have to have a good vision for how you want your apartmen^W application to fit into your life, or your users’ lives. Without that, it is hard to understand what makes sense to keep, what makes sense to remove, and the best roadmap for your app moving forward.

I think it’s a good idea to ask yourself ‘is this what I really want?’ periodically. If I really want my apartment to be a clean, calming sanctuary, is that bright pink, sparkly, gem-encrusted Hello Kitty chandelier really what I want? If I really want this application to improve a user’s life, is this new feature I’m considering going to help or hurt that goal? Consider how you might improve the experience of your application by carefully curating what goes into it.

Just a thought!

About Máirín Duffy

Máirín is a principal interaction designer at Red Hat. She is passionate about software freedom and free & open source tools, particularly in the creative domain: her favorite application is Inkscape. You can read more from Máirín on her blog at blog.linuxgrrl.com.

Discussion

8 thoughts on “Keeping it clean

  1. I think you’ve got a typo here: “What you don’t include in your UI / application / OS is just as important as what you don’t.”
    Shouldn’t it be something like “… just as important as what you do.”?

    Posted by Philipp Weissenbacher | April 21, 2010, 12:05 pm
  2. Hey Máirín, this is one of the topics covered the Maeda’s Laws of Simplicity. First law is actually: “The simplest way to achieve simplicity is through thoughtful reduction”. Nice book if you haven’t read it yet. Cheers!

    Posted by Lucas Rocha | April 21, 2010, 12:26 pm
  3. Very interesting and thought provoking post. Thanks! Something I have been thinking about a lot lately. Some times I wonder, when do we own things and when do things own us? Owning stuff brings worries of them braking, costing us time, taking up space or being stolen.

    Posted by JD Wijbenga | April 22, 2010, 5:55 am
  4. Great concept…

    The only “catch” with respect to software development is that your apartment’s rent usually isn’t paid by someone in a position of power whose arbitrary & capricious demands allow him to force you to accumulate or do dumb things.

    Posted by Brian Duffy | April 23, 2010, 10:15 am
    • Actually, if you rent though…. there’s a lot of stupidity in my apartment I’m forced to live with because I don’t own the apartment. :) E.g., the medicine cabinet that is about rotting off the wall – I’ve given up asking for it to be fixed.

      Posted by mairin | April 23, 2010, 10:20 am
  5. Great tips! I first started cleaning out my computer and house out of necessity- I was unable to install new software and I could no longer park my car in the garage. I decided to be ruthless uninstall/delete apps i NEVER really use. I also chucked old boxes, clothes, misc I no longer use (none of this “oh i might need this one day” talk).

    I must say, I can think a lot clearer now! Thanks Mo’!

    Posted by eric | April 27, 2010, 3:05 pm
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