A few days ago, my sister-in-law made the claim that she is not “techy”. This was after she opened up one of those digital photo frames, got it working and got several of her siblings all hooked up so they could send their 94-year-old aunt photos. She did a nice job, but when one piece didn’t work, out came the “I’m not techy” statement.

Here is a smart woman that figured out an electronic device, user accounts, and smartphone apps for both Android and iPhone. I don’t know if you have ever used one of those digital photo frames, but the user interface is terrible.

The tech industry still doesn’t truly understand what creating products for non-tech people means. For the record, I include myself in “tech industry”. For 30+ years in IT, I was responsible for putting out lots of software for employees to use. There were a lot of mistakes. We continue to put things out that require more technical expertise than our customers or users need/want to spend.

The problem mostly revolves around the tradeoff between Complexity vs User Interface. To oversimplify, the more complex the feature set, the worse the user interface. It is very hard to have lots of features and keep things simple.

Unfortunately, I don’t see this changing in the future. One reason is that security, very appropriately, needs to be built into the lowest level of all our electronic devices and that adds complexity that is hard for the user to understand. The second reason is that interfaces between things (think photoframe and smartphones in this case) are getting more complicated. We all want different parts of our tech world to work together.

I don’t have a good solution here other than to suggest that companies (and IT departments!) work a little harder at keeping complexity hidden from the user. I know it isn’t easy, but it is important.

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