Simplicity as a feature

Written by dermdaly on March 20th, 2012

We recently launched a real-time bus app for Dublin called “My Dublin Bus” (Facebook page, iTunes Link), and so far the majority of the reviews have been 5 Star. We’re happy about that.

The app is super-simple to use; In fact, simplicity is a feature. We put a lot of thought into this, and wanted to share the process behind this.

There are a number of bus apps out there; Some, like the official one is probably mandated to support many different kinds of commuter – the casual commuter, the everyday commuter, and the visitor. Others focus on the various bus routes, and take a map-centric approach to commuting; All of these are important useful features.

But, as an everyday commuter, I find myself needing 10% of those apps, with the other 90% “in the way”. I wanted something “for me”.

So, we challenged ourselves – how do we make it simple to use for the everyday user. I was the straw man. I use the bus every day. If I didn’t need a feature, it was out. This was a cold approach, and we believe the app is better for it.
There were a number of things I set out at the start:

  1. I check times pretty much every time I go to use a bus. This needs to be the primary focus of the app
  2. I know where I am going – I don’t need maps
  3. None of the bus stops I use regularly are termini, so the timetables are irrelevant guesswork
  4. I rarely change the stops I use, but it may happen from time to time – obviously I need a way to edit them

The app that sprang to mind was the Weather App bundled with the iPhone. No need to tap anything – Tell it once what cities are of interest, and all I ever need to do is open it. There is no reason why checking my bus times should be different.

So, we came up with “My Dublin Bus”.
When opened, it automatically grabs the real time information for your stops and displays it. No tapping, no finding of favourites – Just give me the information already.

Main screen in My Dublin Bus

Main Screen

Adding stops is a snap. Other apps ask you to search by stop number, route number, address and so forth. Why? Just find as you type with My Dublin Bus:

Find as you type for My Dublin Bus

Find as you type

And, as we mentioned – The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, we have had some feedback from people suggesting adding feature x or feature y. We consider every request; we really do. But if we feel that a feature may jeopardise the simplicity, we’ve elected to leave it out.

Sometimes, less is more.

Comments (5)

Neil Cremins says:

Impressive work on the app and great of you to share the reasons behind the design decisions that you have chosen.

“My Dublin Bus” has replaced all other bus apps I have on my iOS devices – by the way the app looks great on the new iPad without you even trying 😉 – but one thing I would love to hear your input on would be the idea of a refresh button.

I have found – with my morning stop in particular – that bus times update too fast and for me to get an accurate picture of where the bus is I have to keep closing and restarting the app to receive the updated times.

I know it most likely goes against the simplicity of the app but would be nice to hear what you think.

Keep up the great work though.

mm dermdaly says:

Thanks for the kind words Neil. Here’s a little known feature. If you want to refresh, when on the main screen, tap and hold on the stop name. It will change to “Refresh”. Now release, and the data will refresh.

We know this is too subtle – We’re gutted as it is a feature that’s been there since day 1, but everyone misses it; In fact, “not having” this feature has been the cause of one of our 3-Star Reviews.

We may add in a hint to it in a future release.

Neil Cremins says:

Ah yes perhaps a little too subtle but thanks for getting back to me so promptly shall no longer say “all it’s missing is a refresh button” 🙂

Cormac says:

What would be really cool would be to be able to associate a destination stop (I normally get out at the same place) with the existing journey commencement stops. Then display at the bottom of each bus the time that bus will arrive at my destination stop. I want to be somewhere at a certain time so this feature would let me see at a glance if the bus will get me there on time or if I need to get a taxi.

MacBoy says:

Even though I am in USA, I can still appreciate the nice work you have done on this app!

I love the cute advertisements on the side of the bus stop!

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