Good Enough

posted on 11/16/09 by Meghan Wilker

This morning at the Clockwork kitchen table, Marty and I had an argument centering around the Flip camera. It went something like this:

Me: I want a Flip.
Marty: Why? They suck.
Me: You sound like my husband! You guys are A/V snobs.
Marty: No, we're not. We just don't like things that suck.
Me: Yeah, but it's fast and easy!
Marty: But it SUCKS.
Me: So WHAT? IT'S EASY!
Marty: Shut up.
Me: No, YOU shut up.
Kjrsten: Here, I had a Flip in my desk drawer. You can have it if the two of you promise to shut up.

One of the points I was trying to make as Marty and I were talking was one that Wired perfectly summed up in their recent article, The Good Enough Revolution:

"We now favor flexibility over high fidelity, convenience over features, quick and dirty over slow and polished. Having it here and now is more important than having it perfect. These changes run so deep and wide, they're actually altering what we mean when we describe a product as 'high-quality.'

And it's happening everywhere. As more sectors connect to the digital world, from medicine to the military, they too are seeing the rise of Good Enough tools like the Flip. Suddenly what seemed perfect is anything but, and products that appear mediocre at first glance are often the perfect fit."

Marty objects to the Flip for the same reason my husband does: because the video output is not that great. It could be so much better.

What they fail to understand are the motivations of people like me (whom Flip is presumably targeting): for us, it isn't a choice between taking crummy video (with a Flip) and good video (with some other device). The choice is between capturing a moment on a dead-simple device, or not capturing it at all. Between sharing videos often (because we can plug the USB device into our machine at a moment's notice) or sharing them rarely — or not at all (because it's a hassle getting out the right cord).

So, while the Flip is offensive to people who know how much better it could be, it's perfect for people who — above all else — just want something simple. (And, frankly, I recently made a video that ended up being half-shot on my Panasonic DMC-TZ5 and half-shot on Nancy's Flip. The Flip portion has better audio and the video, while a bit lower in quality, is not offensive to the eyes AT ALL. Most importantly, IT GOT THE JOB DONE.)

It's not like I'm a Luddite. I love technology. But, I also love things that are easy. And, whether you love or hate the Flip (or its output) you can't argue that it's easy as hell to use.

The Wired article is a fascinating look at how and when we value "good enough" over "the best" or "most featureful." For those of us who develop web sites, software and other applications, this is a crucial phenomenon to understand. At what point do we give our users so many options that they can't deal with it and retreat to something simpler that feels better, easier and less overwhelming?

Another perfect example: Craiglist (also featured in the same issues of Wired). The thing is ugly and clunky, and yet it is the first place I go when I need to buy or sell something. Because IT GETS THE JOB DONE. Wired asked designers to re-imagine Craigslist with a "better" design and you know what? With one exception (the one by SimpleScott who noted, "Why fix what isn't broken?"), I wouldn't use any of the versions presented. Better? Perhaps. But, somehow, in getting "better" they lost what it was that made it work in the first place.

[cross-posted on the Clockwork blog]

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