affective design

Exploring Emotional Design

Seasonal Affective Disorder and Simplicity

In northern climates, some people suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (or S.A.D.), a mood disorder that causes depressive symptoms…

S.A.D. has been linked to changes in both serotonin and melatonin levels caused by reductions in light during the winter months. Although medications such as SSRIs can be used to treat this disorder, other solutions with fewer potential side effects have also been designed.

The Dawn Simulator is a device that is placed near the bed and works by simulating the rising of the sun. Other devices called light books treat S.A.D. by replacing natural light with artificial light. These devices have also been used to combat jetlag.

I live in Canada, where it seems to be winter for most of the year. Over the last few years, my wife and I have investigated light books. Last year, we wound up borrowing one (the Litebook) from a friend to try out. It seemed odd, but staring into the little flat panel of light did improve our moods, especially during February, which tends to be an especially grumpy month

I admired the simple interface of the Litebook. A single button turned the power and light on and off. Before we returned it this year, we decided to purchase one for ourselves. I went out to various stores, hoping to find something with an equally simple interface.

The only light book I could find was the Apollo Health goLite P1, which had a much more complex interface. Instead of a single button, there were six. But since it was the only model I could find, I reluctantly made the purchase and brought it home. My wife was excited as she unwrapped it. “Wow! It has multiple programs for different people, a timer, and you can adjust the light output!”

I have to admit I was a little shocked. I’ve spent the last six or seven years studying usability and the last four studying the interplay of emotion and design. Isn’t simplicity a positive thing? Isn’t complexity something to be avoided? Around this time, a discussion was going on over at the IXDA list, centered on an article that Donald Norman had written about how simplicity was overrated.

Norman’s point was, that although simplicity is great in theory, in practice products that seem too simple aren’t purchased because they seem less powerful, have fewer features, and offer less control. Going back and comparing the two light books, I began to think that Norman was on to something (as he usually is). The Litebook interface is very simple, but seems less powerful than the interface of the goLite.

I have some theories on this, but I’m interested in what YOU think. So, I’ve created a quick visual mockup. The light book on the left is the goLite that we recently purchased. The light book on the right is the same model, but with the interface simplified to simulate the interface on the Litebook that we borrowed (i.e. one button). I wanted to remove variables such as the design and colour (the Litebook is black) from the equation and focus on the interface.

The question is: If you were in the store, and saw these two books, having no knowledge of their feature sets, which one would you be inclined to buy and why? I’ll revisit the results in a future posting.

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    3 Comments so far

    1. Andrew February 19th, 2007 12:55 am

      I would say simplicity is a good thing, but, simplicity and feature reduction are two different things.

      The original looks pretty simple to me, but the altered version gives the impression that it lacks features more than the impression of being simple to use.

      The question is, do the new features make it more usable in the long run? i.e. does the timer mean you can stay in bed when you want? does the personalisation mean it is more effective?

    2. Clement May 15th, 2007 2:29 am

      Assuming that the price is the same, I would go for the one with more functions, as it seems superior and having more options later on.

    3. Kimberly September 29th, 2008 8:16 pm

      i will choose the one with single button. to me i see it as a light. ON or off. just like normal lights. i prefer non complicated things. plus things like adjusting lights and timer never really worked well for me. perhaps im a more automated sorta person ? plus i only want one outcome from this product – which is getting the light. 🙂

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