I am trying to understand how people decide if a software is simple or not. I am quite often asked for simpler alternatives for 3D software, graphics software, CAD software, mind mapping Software and so on. I am quite often unable to give people a satisfactory answer. But I do keep tabs on what they ended up using.

So far i've come up with 3 basic explanations of simple:

  1. Whatever Bob is using. Where bob is some person they know or wish to emulate. Often Bob is somehow related to the sub field of humanity they relate to.

  2. Software that is extremely limited in amount of features.

    Sometimes this makes their task objectively insanely hard.

  3. They complain that the dieted choice isn't simple enough but use it anyway.

So what are the heuristics people in general use to choose simple software? What dot hey use as a proxy? Is it just a presentation issue? I mean quite many software claim to be easy in their marketing material. But dont end up being any easier than other software in general.

  • A few questions: When you give an alternative, what did you do to find out what they need/want? And have they tried the alternative first, or do they look for information about it before they decide to give it a try? Or do they ignore your suggestion completely?
    – jazZRo
    May 6 '20 at 9:20
  • 1
    @jazZRo Well it depends on what software they are asking for. I will try to gauge the end use, for example I do not recommend a polygon based modeller for people who need to mill something as polygon models cause the milling technicians to reject the work. However, this does not mean people listen to this advice (or are capable of digesting the info). Jobs are regularly dismissed because people searched and easier application to use. Note this is not about money we can supply licenses to almost any software imaginable.
    – joojaa
    May 6 '20 at 13:38
  • I find your situation a bit too complex/specific to add an answer. To find out why they chose differently you probably should ask or do a survey. As part of your advice you could also show a comparison of the most popular software and the advised software. Maybe this is a bit more convincing since you showed them your knowledge of the alternatives too. But maybe you're already doing this.
    – jazZRo
    May 7 '20 at 8:02

Why people choose software in general is well explained by Technology acceptance model (TAM) and extended Technology acceptance model (TAM2). In TAM perceived usefulness and perceived ease of use both affect intention to use.

enter image description here From Venkatesh & Davis - A Theoretical Extension of the Technology Acceptance Model: Four Longitudinal Field Studies

In TAM2 both the image you give off about yourself and what others think about the software affect the perceived usefulness.

Subjective norm significantly influenced perceived usefulness via both internalization, in which people incorporate social influences into their own usefulness perceptions, and identification, in which people use a system to gain status and influence within the work group and thereby improve their job performance.

On the other hand people seem to perceive software useful if it fulfills their need, or gets the job done.

An important and interesting finding that emerged was the interactive effect between job relevance and output quality in determining perceived usefulness. This implies that judgments about a system's usefulness are affected by an individual's cognitive matching of their job goals with the consequences of system use (job relevance), and that output quality takes on greater importance in proportion to a system's job relevance.

For people in doesn't seem to matter if using the software is objectively insanely hard because all that matters whether they subjectively perceive it as useful.

  • +1 really nice explanation plus the TAM reference (a good history lesson :D) - good work!
    – Michael Lai
    May 5 '20 at 23:08

There is both an objective and subjective aspect to the term 'simple'.

The objective aspect can be measure quantitatively in terms of things like the number of steps, options and outputs produced in a particular task or workflow. It can also be measured by the amount of time taken to complete a task (relative to some other task or the reduction in time when asked to complete the task again).

The subjective aspect can't be measured so easily, and relies on capturing qualitative measures such as how easy or difficult someone thinks the task is.

Somewhere between the two will give you a pretty good approximation of what 'simple' means.

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