Making People Happier

Posted on by David Turner

Over the course of the last year and a half I have spent a great deal of time working on web based applications, primarily ReferenceIt and, more recently, Get Invited. These, combined with other projects at more conceptual stages, have helped me to identify some key fundamentals of my work.

With my recent talk on the topic of simplicity at Creative Camp, I have realised that I should be documenting and talking about these fundamentals, or principles, in more detail. As such, this post will serve as a starting point for further articles that focus on each principle in more depth.

Making People Happier - An Introduction

There are fundamental principles that serve as key points in the work that I do. It has taken me a while to realise this, but they applied to my work even before I knew of them. My current knowledge will help me drive future work to even greater heights.

Each of these principles help me to produce software that makes users happier. These principles are:

Each of these principles provides an area which I can focus on in my work and each helps, in some manner, to improve the quality of the products I am involved in. Not all principles can be applied to all products, so principles must be applied in a manner relevant to the work being undertaken.

In creating products that identify relevant principles, and adhere to them as closely as possible, I am able to produce a higher quality of product. Due to adhering to these principles, these products will also result in the people using them being happier.

The Four Principles

As I have laid out above, there are four key principles that apply to the products I have been working on. I will now talk about each in turn, expanding upon the logic behind each as well as the impact that they can have upon the products I am developing.

Discovery

In much of the work I undertake, I deal with data. Information. The internet is immeasurably vast, but it is possible to find, or discover, information. Search engines like Google help, but they are a very general tool – it’s hard to find very specific information.

Making it easier for people to find the information that they are after is important, be it a tweet with a specific hash tag, or the information needed to accurately generate a reference.

To take the example of twitter, this is a quote from an announcement they made just over six months ago, which I will refer to throughout my essay:

“Halfway through 2011, users on Twitter are now sending 200 million Tweets per day. For context on the speed of Twitter’s growth, in January of 2009, users sent two million Tweets a day, and one year ago they posted 65 million a day.”

This doesn’t just give an idea of the quantity of information that needs to be searched through, it also shows how rapidly this number is changing. According to TechCrunch this number was up to 250 million tweets per day mid-October.

Discovery of information in such a rapidly growing pool is very difficult. Finding specific information on an individual page can be difficult.

The products I create help make it easier to find the information that users are looking for. The result is that people can more speedily find the information that they want or need.

The end result of this is that people spend less time looking for information. This makes people happier.

Automation

Undertaking a task multiple times isn’t pleasant. It’s boring. Undertaking a boring task repetitively is never enjoyable, which results in lower productivity and lower levels of happiness.

When approaching product design I want to avoid both of these issues. Lower productivity and lower levels of happiness result in a poorer quality of work. What can I do to remove the boredom?

Automation handles these tasks efficiently, removing the need for human repetition entirely. By automating a process I am able to take a repetitive and tedious chore and remove it from workflows.

This is something computers are very well suited to. They are also suited to handling much larger tasks. To revisit twitter, which I discussed earlier, there are somewhere between 2400 and 2900 tweets being sent per second.

Filtering through these tweets would be an impossible task for a human. For a computer, however, it is a very simple task, and one it can handle as many times as is needed. Computers can take an impossible task and make it possible.

Software that automates tasks, therefore, removes tedious and repetitive tasks from the workflow of people. In the workplace this means that people are able to dedicate time to more important, or more rewarding, tasks. This increases productivity.

The results impact more than the workplace. By freeing up more time from tedious and repetitive tasks, it is also possible that people may find themselves with more time which they can spend as they see fit. This makes people happier.

Simplification

According to Wolfram Alpha, which provides answers to questions, there are roughly 13.71 billion indexed web pages online. That is an overwhelming amount of information to search through, and it only includes the indexed areas of the internet.

So how do we find what we need? How much information do we need to give out in order to do the things we view as necessary? The reality is that we don’t need all of the information that we think we do.

People think that they need the information, but it is very rarely the case that people find the time that is required to do anything with it. With this being the case, why collect it in the first place? People think they like choice.

Choice appeals to people, it lures them in. Jason Putnam talks about it in an article on the KISSmetrics blog. There is a drawback to choice as highlighted in a paper by Sheena Iyenga. Whilst choice can draw people in, it has a negative effect when it comes to deciding, causing them to freeze.

Simplification, therefore, makes sense. By removing unnecessary information, or steps from a process, distilling a process down to the core information needed, I am able to create a better experience for people.

By simplifying processes, I make it easier for people to complete tasks. This enables people to spend more time doing the things that they want to do. This makes people happier.

Preservation

In a world that is as growing by over 60,000 websites per day (according to research by Shane Snow), finding information is difficult. Keeping hold of that information is difficult too.

Keeping hold of your data is important, a topic that Jeremy Keith touched upon recently in his “All Our Yesterdays” talk at Build. Data doesn’t live forever, things do disappear.

Many people will have heard of the company Yahoo! and, probably, of GeoCities. GeoCities served as a home for almost a terabyte of data, until it was unceremoniously removed. That’s a lot of information that simply disappeared, and it could cause problems to lose something that we never thought could disappear.

This is something that I would like to help prevent with my own work. A lot of what I do deals with collecting information, but I also want to ensure that it’s not trapped in my system. I want to collect information and then let people use it however they would like.

The foundation of this will be allowing export of information in the formats that people understand. This allows people to take the information that is significant to them and use it elsewhere. It also means that they could, if they so desired, save this information elsewhere.

Information is valuable, but many people don’t realise this until after the information is lost to them. The products I am working on will, to the best of their ability, help mitigate such loss.

The end result of this is that people will have access to the information that matters to them, in a format they can use. This makes people happier.

Conclusion

As we have discussed, information is a valuable commodity and has a lot of power. There is much that can be done with information to make lives easier for people. The four principles I have identified better help me to achieve this.

Discovery, Automation, Simplification, and Preservation have provided me with a solid foundation for the work I have previously completed as well as with future projects. They have also helped me to identify a cohesion in my work that had previously gone unnoticed.

This foundation has helped me to produce a higher quality of work, and is key to the products I have been working on. It keeps my work focused on making life better for those that use them. It has also enabled me to identify other areas that I believe can be improved upon via the application of the principles I have discussed above.

The products I have developed, alongside others I am currently developing, allow me to work to make the lives of people better. This is something I care quite deeply about, and is something I intend to pursue, developing new products in the areas I have identified that can be improved.

Each of the products I am involved with work to this end, applying my four principles to solving problems. These products make lives easier for the people using them. This makes people happier.

References

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