Reasonable Design

I’m always trying new productivity/task/project software, in the hope that someone will write the one I need before I do.  The latest one is Action Method, by Behance.  It’s not very useful to people with more than a handful of tasks (i.e. everyone), but that’s not the purpose of this post.  After failing to find it’s value, I read through the FAQ and found this gem:

Why are there only 3 colors for my Action Steps?

We thought about including more colors. But then one of our early Beta  testers said it best: “If 3 colors are enough to safely drive a car  [traffic lights], they should be enough to organize  yourself.” (Thanks, Jordan!) Sometimes, simplicity is best.

This is a terrible way to design software, and an even more terrible way to explain it to users.  Driving a car has nothing to do with accomplishing or organizing your workload.  Not even in a “well now that I think of it” way, it’s just plain irrelevant.   If that’s your reasoning, why aren’t the colors red, green, and yellow (they are blue, orange and gray)? Should all of the buttons on the site be round because the wheels are round?  Should all of the text be white on green because that’s good enough for highway signage?

I’m being silly here, but the point is that when you have to make a decision like this, be mindful of the reasoning behind it.  Rationalizing an arbitrary choice with a trite and irrelevant explanation might sound cute, and it’s a standard design cop-out, so avoid it.  Perhaps 3 colors is the right answer here, which could be for any number of valid reasons:

  • 90% of people never use all 3.
  • User testing showed that 3 was easier than 5 or 7 or 16 million.
  • It’s an intentional design goal that colors don’t proliferate because people end up confusing themselves on advanced projects.
  • It looks ugly (I’m guessing this is the actual reason)

Or maybe, since this is in the frequently asked questions, 3 isn’t the right answer at all, regardless of traffic engineering standards.