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Interface Laundry

26 Oct 2004 by Matthew Linderman

Douglas Bowman’s Pushing Your Limits presentation on CSS discusses the deconstruction phase of the Blogger redesign. It consisted of these steps: “Take everything away. What do we need to add back in? What can we get away without?”

It reminded me of Life Laundry, which PBS has been playing the heck out of lately. The show helps people streamline their lives by cleaning out home clutter. It’s amazing to see the way some people hoard things and the emotional baggage attached to possessions.

What I really like about the show — and what Bowman’s bit reminded me of — is how it makes people choose which items to keep. Instead of going into the house and picking things to eliminate, they take everything in the house outside to the closest outside space.

It’s a simple yet brilliant idea. Now everything is outside the home and must be dealt with — and quickly. Now it’s easier to get rid of something than keep it (instead of the opposite). If you want to keep an item, you’ll actually have to put forth effort and make the choice to keep it. It’s a powerful shift.

Here’s one of the show’s hosts, Dawna Walter, on letting go:

You should surround yourself with things that bring you pleasure and serve a useful function. Everything else is extraneous. That is the litmus test. If you use it then you must appreciate it and look after it.

You can see how this concept extends to interfaces: Show respect to the elements that really matter by eliminating the ones that don’t.

17 comments so far (Post a Comment)

26 Oct 2004 | ML said...

Btw, you can hear Bowman speak at the Building Blogger presentation on November 8th in San Francisco. The Building of Basecamp Workshop is on November 9th in SF. Each is $395. Register for one or both (at a discounted $745 rate) at Adaptive Path's site.

26 Oct 2004 | JF said...

It's a real treat to see Bowman present. He's truly at the top of his game.

26 Oct 2004 | Matthew Oliphant said...

Every 6 months or so I go through our house on a rampage. I hit each room (one per day til I am done) and with every object I ask, "Is it being used?"

If not, the next decision point is between pack it, or toss it. It's amazing how much crap you can collect in 6 months.

Informally this is also how I approach design. Especially when trying to reconcile what the business thinks needs to happen in order to get work done, and how the users have optimized/customized it to fit their needs over time.

Just have to find out what really has to happen to suffice business needs without getting in the way of the users.

26 Oct 2004 | Don Schenck said...

Matthew ... I do that too.

But she keeps coming back.


26 Oct 2004 | Matthew Oliphant said...

Don, do you mean your adoring fan club? Just give up and accept the homage.

26 Oct 2004 | Brad Hurley said...

If not, the next decision point is between pack it, or toss it. It's amazing how much crap you can collect in 6 months.

True, but it's also a drag when you toss something and then two years later you spend three hours looking for it only to discover that you must have jettisoned it during a cleaning rampage.

I'm pretty ruthless when it comes to getting rid of things, and yet I often find myself regretting some of my decisions later. We saw a preview of the movie "The Polar Express" last night on TV, and my girlfriend had never seen the book. "Oh, I have that book, you'll love it," I said, and then embarked on a long, fruitless search through my bookshelves before I realized it must have been one of the dozens of books that I sold or gave away before I moved here.

Moral for web/interface redesign projects: take everything out and put back only what you really need, but don't forget to save the code that you don't use; it might come in handy someday.

26 Oct 2004 | Dr_God said...

Pack rats rule! Garage, basement, and closet space be damned!

Is there anything finer than discovering an old high school paper that you wrote on acid rain? :)

26 Oct 2004 | Don Schenck said...

I'm so old ... we didn't write papers on acid rain. We just wrote papers ... on acid. :-)

26 Oct 2004 | RS said...

Right on Don!

26 Oct 2004 | pb said...

There are a lot of companies who could benefit from this approach. Get rid of all your products, processes and employees and take back only the ones that make or save a lot of money.

26 Oct 2004 | indi said...

Yep, there's definitely a place for mementos and souvenirs - but only if you have the room to spare. I guess that can apply to design as well. Just because you always put a particular feature on a web page doesn't mean you always need to do it.

Ya know, this pack rat thing applies to our computers as well. How many of us thought 1 GB would be more space than we'd ever use in a long time? That changed to 10GB, then 20, 40, 80, 160GB and higher. What if we started buying bigger houses just to hold all the stuff we didn't want to sort through and get rid of?

27 Oct 2004 | Scott Stowell said...

The show you describe sounds like a knockoff of Clean Sweep, the TLC series about clutter-busting that's been on the air for at least two years. (It's one of my favorite shows.)

27 Oct 2004 | Arne Gleason said...

I vaguely recall an article on pack rat behavior (in Discover I thinkÖwhich Iím a little embarrassed to admit I read).

I remember finding it interesting that the disorder was correlated with a deep rooted decision making dysfunction (I should do it -- but I canít decide -- it might be a big mistake -- Iíll just leave well enough alone). A similar decision dysfunction at a company level may explain why itís so hard to purge a product of the mostly useless features that accrete from version to version.

27 Oct 2004 | Bernie said...

Purging is good. I should get on a 6-month cycle, as opposed to the 3-5 year major event it is now.

I just started going through the many MANY boxes which have been stashed away in the corners of my basement. I have been hoarding things for years, and I do have a sentimental attachement to "stuff". Stuff I don't use, but feel the need to keep. Stuff like old punk rock flyers from 20 years ago, or a collection of xerox art and skate zines from the late 80's, hundreds and hundreds of records, and collections of old postcards from south america and QSL cards from amature radio operators. Sometimes there is a meaningful connection to the object - art made by friends, or relics, and sometimes I just want to take care of the stuff.

But then again, a LOT of it is trash, and it is headed to the dump.

27 Oct 2004 | Cleve said...

There's a clean-sweep concept in the accounting world as well - "zero-based budgeting" - where a new yearly budget must be justified from (yep) zero, instead of only justifying the increase.

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30 Jan 2005 | compatelius said...

bocigalingus must be something funny.

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