When details become distracting

29Dec08

One of the programs I use has a feature that lets customers leave a message outside business hours. It works quite well, and it even tells you exactly when they left the message. In a case like this, the date and time (e.g. “December 15 at 9:05 pm”) would do just fine. But for some reason, the designers chose to include the exact time, down to the number of seconds.

Clearly, the user isn’t any better off with this extra detail. Who cares if the message arrived closer to 9:05 or 9:06? The added detail also makes the whole message more time-consuming to process, since our brains are trained to at least glance over all the data that we’re presented with.

This is a classic example of why you should always remember the ‘less is more’ principle. By reducing the data you present to the most relevant and actionable details, you help the recipient process and act upon it with a minimum of time and effort. And if you’re not sure what to include, ask yourself or your customers if they genuinely need and value the extra detail. More often than not, it’s just noise that gets in the way of the task at hand.



2 Responses to “When details become distracting”

  1. 1 David Andersen

    Perhaps there is a business case for the seconds. The ability to toggle the seconds would be better if that is the case.

    • Hi David. I can certainly see the argument for that, though I’d still prefer to see the default settings provide the most elegant data set possible. Of course, if your customer base treasures those extra details, then the default should probably be more verbose.


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