Sunday, September 18, 2005

Less is More

In the design community, the aphorism 'less is more' is a very important concept. It means that if you remove anything that is unnecessary to your design, you finish up with something that is somehow more satisfying to the end user. In fact, thinking about it, I did a pretty good bit of less-is-moreism yesterday. I'm building a website for a company whose business is a seasonal activity that coincides with the school year.

Each year, they have to tell the system driving the website what the start and end dates are for each term (semester). I sat down and started building the page where they input these dates. What I could have done was this: have an input field where you type in the name of the season (e.g. '2005/2006'). And then type in the day, month and year for the start and end dates of each term. But that's quite a bit of work for the site administrator. What I've built is much simpler. Since we know that when they come to change the dates for the season, it will start in the current year, so we have a text entry field pre-filled with this year ('2005'). From that we know that the start and end year of the Winter term is currentyear, the year for the start and end of the Spring and Summer terms is 'currentyear + 1', and also that the name of this season is 'currentyear/currentyear + 1'. We also know that the various terms almost always start and end in certain months, so those are pre-selected by default.

So when the administrator comes to change the dates, instead of having to point, click and complete 19 different fields, it is only necessary to input the day (number) of the start and end of each term - 6 clicks only. Of course, doing it this way involves a fair bit of nasty Javascript programming for me, but the end result is a delighted client who just cannot believe how simple it is.

Anyhoo, I didn't start off this post with the idea of ego-massage (it was nice though), it was meant to be a rant about CD-labelling kits. About twice a year, one of my lovely clients calls me and says he wants another 25 / 50 / 100 of his corporate CDs. He won't invest in a large run of CDs, because he tends to change the content each time he does a new run. I have suggested that he should at least get a bunch of labels printed and we'll just stick them on, but this hasn't happened yet. CD labels are a royal pain in the derriere to print and stick on. They really are.

Every time I go to replenish my CD label supplies they have never heard of the brand I'm after and I end up having to buy whatever it is they have. This always involves buying the 'stomper' as well. What's a stomper?, I hear you ask. Well it's the device that aligns the CD and the label and then presses them together. I have lots of these, all completely different and incompatible with other manufacturer's labels. Regrettably I don't think there'd be any money in opening a Museo Di Stomperi DC.

Yesterday I had the call for a repeat order from my client, so off I go in search of either refills for one of my existing stompers, or, more likely, yet another flavour of stomper. What I actually bought has amazed me. I got a couple of 30-packs of Avery CD labels, each of which includes a 'label centering device'. The packs were very slim, and I couldn't imagine how an inflatable stomper would work, but they were also quite cheap so I bought them.

I got home and opened a pack. I located the 'label centering device'. It's a small plastic button that fits over the hole in the CD. You then peel your printed label off the backing sheet, place the hole in the sheet over the button and spread the label out over the disc. It works a treat! It only works, of course, because the labels are 'full-face' meaning that they cover all of the CD, rather than being the traditional and pointless 'donut' that leaves a clear ring around the centre.

So, less is more. I love it - no more stompers!

But speaking of pointlessness, why do CDs have a hole in the middle?