Numbersense, in Chinese and Japanese
Fixing the visual versus fixing the story

Minimalism as a form of abuse

With each succeeding year, I get more and more frustrated with "minimalist" designs that have little respect for users.

This Christmas, I received a portable cellphone charger as a gift. A thoughtful gift. I have heard of these devices but have never touched one. Until a few weeks ago (when I wrote this post).

This is the packaging.


The Phunkee Juice Box is a square cylinder. It has no buttons, and no obvious signals. The only other thing I found in the box was a multi-headed wire. This is as minimal as you can get. Even the brand's name is taped on, as if to say "You don't even have to advertise our name if you don't like it".

I needed to get some power into this battery first. I was in a computer lab with many power outlets but the cord in the box had no plugs. I looked for instructions. This is the back cover:


So how do I use this thing? There's a note at the bottom: Please see detailed instructions inside.


Amusingly, there wasn't anything inside the box that resembled instructions (see the first photo).


Perhaps I could connect the device to one of the lab computers and power it up that way. Instinctively, I inserted the USB connector into the device. Then I realized none of the three remaining connectors could fit into the computer.


The device has two sockets, so I reversed the wire.


Now the USB connector went into the desktop computer while the mini-USB plug went into the Juice Box.


A red light appeared around the neck of the device. It was a persistent light, not blinking, not changing colors. There was only one light on the Juice Box so how much charge did it have?


Then I started having doubts. Was I sure power was flowing from the computer to the Juice Box? Couldn't power be moving from the Juice Box to the computer? What I think caused this confusion was the reversing of the wire. The USB port was first inserted in the computer, then flipped over to the device. Cords are typically uni-directional but this one might be bi-directional.

An hour later, I didn't see any change. The red light was still on. Someone told me I should use my iPhone plug and insert the Juice Box directly to the socket on the wall. This device made me feel dumb.

Again, the red light came on, and again no other signal was forthcoming. Eventually, after three hours or so, the light turned blue. Finally, I learned that the light turns from red to blue on a full charge. I still have no idea how much charge is in the device at any time.

I left the fully charged device on my desk. One day later, my phone was out of power and I connected the Juice Box the only way it could -  the mini-USB port into the phone, the USB port into the Juice Box. I had reversed the direction of the cord again. Presumably power was flowing from the battery into my phone. I wasn't sure since the one and only light was completely extinguished. (PS. Turned out no power was moving across. Perhaps the device was defective. Perhaps the power dissipated during those 24 hours of idleness.)

You know I will get to visualization eventually. The current trend of hiding labels and text is irritating. The new interface of Google Maps is more confusing to use than the previous interface, not least because of de-cluttering and replacing text with symbols. To read many of today's graphics, stumbling readers must hover over or click on the chart surface--these interactions add nothing to the experience.

Minimalism is taking away unneccessary things. It isn't taking away everything. Please stop torturing users.


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Excellent post! I definitely agree that a lot of new products are stripping away too much just to look sleek and trendy.


It doesn't matter whether it is a visualisation, a product or a piece of software, nothing beats user testing. Give it yo someone who is a typical user and see if they figure it out. Even Apple who are pretty good at this, sometimes forget that their newer users have never used a tablet/computer/smart phone and put things in that aren't intuitive unless you've used an earlier model.


This is why I got the Jackery Giant+. The inputs are labeled, and when you press the button the 3 LEDS light up to tell you how much charge you have (they also blink when the device is charging to tell you how much it's filled up).

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