The impact of team size on interface design
In the wake of today’s news that Sparrow was acquired by Google, I started to do some thinking on the relationship between team size and the ultimate clarity & simplicity of an interface. One clear relationship that I see is that when a small team of one to a few people focus very intensely on solving a specific problem they often come up with a shockingly clear, simple, and elegant interface solution. This is clearly the case with Sparrow. The Sparrow team wonderfully solved many of the UI problems inherent in a communication system conceived when computers didn’t have mice, let alone touch interfaces. For more on the high level challenges of the interface around email, I point to the excellent .Mail design manifesto by Tobias van Schneider. Arguably, the Sparrow team had taken a shot at, or even solved, many of Tobias’ points, arriving at a clear, concise, and simple interface to threaded discussions and multiple mailboxes. They created an interface that, Google itself having now validated via acquisition, to being better than any UI that Google themselves could conceive around Gmail. This leads me to some general assumptions that regardless of the sheer engineering power Google wields, it’s hard pressed to find that focused of a product vision and intuitive UI metaphors to create something as special as Sparrow. My current thesis is that large teams inherently add complexity, due to group thinking, and “everyone should have a say” mindset. This goes directly against the first (and my favorite) rule from John Maeda’s Laws of Simplicity: Reduce.