I'm now living in Israel! Support this site & receive a newsletter with stories from my travels.

‘Clarity Is More Valuable Than Density’

I’ve always heard that the beauty of an app is in it’s simplicity, but I don’t know if I ever truly believed it.

Until now.

I’m not a paper guy. I don’t carry around a notebook and pen and constantly oooh and aahhh over the “ruggedness of the paper” or the “roundness of the corners”—although I do admire people that do.

But I do carry my iPhone. Everywhere. And I can type on that little virtual keyboard faster than I can chicken scratch out a sentence with a pen. Yesterday, I wanted a list. A simple, dumb-as-a-doorknob list. And with the 15 bazillion page-flipping, tap tap tapping, use-your-iPhone-as-an-overpriced-flashlight apps out there, I thought a simple list wasn’t such a tall order.

But of course, I was wrong.

I posed the question on twitter and received a variety of mixed responses, none of which satisfied my craving. Sure they had tagging and notes and shiny checkboxes, but what I wanted was a piece of paper. On my phone. Nothing more, nothing less.

I want to be able to write lists like paper, scratch them out like paper, and highlight them like paper. That’s it. I don’t need syncing or tagging or even some sort of web interface. If paper doesn’t have it, I don’t really need it.

Adding a button is easy. Adding value is tricker. And making the website/product/app not get in the way is the most difficult part of the design process. Paper doesn’t get in the way—why should your app?

John Gruber touched on this in his article on the brilliance of the built-in iPhone Notes app:

In an interview with Kyle Baxter in July, Brent Simmons said this regarding his design for the iPhone version of NetNewsWire: “Clarity is more valuable than density.” The iPhone’s Notes app is clear and sparse — or, perhaps better put, clear because it is sparse.

I’m no developer, but I know that when you make an app simple, you make it flexible. And when an app is flexible, it’s able to mold into my workflow instead of forcing my workflow to mold around it.

Now, for my notebook-style lists app: I’ll take a paper-UI, swipe to strikethrough, double-tap to highlight iPhone app with a side order of fries and a large Sprite to go.