Simplicity is about knowing your context

The new Chicago L train schedules do a nice job of showing you information in a more relevant way. They used to post every single time a train was expected to arrive (7:10am, 7:17 am, 7:25 am, 7:32 am,….etc.). Now, they’ve reduced the content to something more informative and less verbose (every 7-10 minutes).

This is a good example of knowing your context. Exact times just aren’t that important on the L. People don’t plan to catch the train at specific times. Instead, they just swipe their ticket and wait on the platform until the next one comes. The schedule is a bit more reflective of how we use the L.

Web apps should go through the same rigor. Too often we think simplification is just about getting rid of stuff. But, it’s also about readjusting how data is displayed. In the train schedule example, we haven’t really lost any information (I could probably roughly guess all the times that the trains will show up on a Saturday afternoon). We’re just absorbing information in a more relevant way.