Menus are for Restaurants, Not Software

Ribbon Menu WordOk, that’s a bit of a bold and overstated title, but it’s basically true. Menus hide things. They make things harder to find and harder to use. They make software more difficult for people to use. I’d like to outline some basic principles, and then talk about how they relate to Super Simple.

Now, for most software, it is complex. Every new feature adds a level of complexity that makes the software harder to use. Adding all those features to the main UI would quickly make it unusable, and menus help clean up the UI by neatly placing functionality in hierarchical structures that are relatively easy to navigate. But still, finding how to do things becomes more difficult.

Some software places the preferences under the “Edit” menu. Other software places it under “Tools”. Other software places it under “Options”. Other software puts it in a right-click context menu. Or it could be hidden in the taskbar notification area (system tray) in an icon that you either left- or right-click on. Then again, the preferences are sometimes called “Settings”, sometimes “Options”, and sometimes “Preferences”. So what you’re trying to find is just as mystifying as where to find it!

The Microsoft Ribbon is definitely an improvement. But it is still basically just a combination of a menu with a toolbar. Is it easier to use? Absolutely! But what it does at the core is to expose more of the complexity.

There is no escaping the menu/toolbar/ribbon for software that is complex enough to warrant it.

However, that begs the question:

Does software need menus/toolbars/ribbons?

Perhaps another related question may be more productive.

How complex should software be?

There’s really no good answer for that because software covers such a wide range of possibilities with virtually limitless complexity. The question needs to be more limited. More focused.

For a broader audience, complexity needs to be reduced. For more specialized audiences, complexity naturally increases.

How that Relates to Super Simple

I have more software planned for Super Simple, but in keeping with the concept of “super simple”, none of it will have menus. Or at least no menus in the traditional sense. One title has a menu in the taskbar notification area icon, but is otherwise aims for absolute minimalism in every aspect. So while I know it’s simply not possible to completely eliminate menus, it’s certainly possible to minimize their use if not eliminate them entirely.

With the aim of Super Simple to produce fast and easy utility-type software with a dedicated purpose, eliminating menus becomes possible. Complexity can be hidden by automatically making choices for people that could otherwise be confusing.

Photo Resizer does exactly that. It balances maximum quality with minimum file size that produces output suitable for all but professional purposes. For professional purposes, there is an option that allows for raising the quality (and consequently the file size), although at that point, you need a full editing suite like Photoshop anyways, so really, there’s little point.

The underlying philosophy behind Super Simple is that a lot of software is feature driven, but that creates problems for users. Instead of being feature driven, I’ve opted for Super Simple to be task oriented and user interface driven. So, the software aims at a single task, then presents an optimal user interface for that task. As much detail as possible is hidden from the user, and only the the “next level” of necessary (or potentially important) details exposed through simple preferences. The core user interface should present no more than the absolute minimum number of options.

I’ve got a few more programs done, but they need some work before they are ready for Super Simple. I’m looking to deliver a highly-polished, simple experience for users there, and that takes time.





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