Ease, Power, and Cost

Fast Good Cheap Venn Diagram

There’s a classic maxim that if you’re doing a project, you can have two out of these three:

  1. Fast
  2. Good
  3. Cheap

You can have something that’s:

  • Fast and cheap but not good.
  • Good and fast but not cheap.
  • Good and cheap but not fast. ((I’d say this third combination—good, cheap, not fast—is the least true of the three.))

I think there’s a corollary of sorts in web design—and probably other fields—with the following:

  1. Ease [of use]
  2. Power[ful controls]
  3. Cheap

Power Each Cheap Venn DiagramThat gives you these three options:

  • Easy to use and powerful but not cheap.
  • Powerful and cheap but not easy to use.
  • Cheap and easy to use but not powerful.

(In both examples above, the “cheap” axis can be measured in both money and time.)

Let’s use the example of a simple feature on a WordPress website: the text editor.

A stripped down version of the editor (what I use for most client websites) is easy to use. It uses buttons that can also be found in Word or Gmail so people know how they work. It’s also cheap since that’s what comes with WordPress (money “cheap”) ((I add a small set of customizations that are the same on every site so they don’t take any extra time to deploy.)) and clients can quickly enter lots of text (time “cheap”). However, there are tons of “extensions” that add advanced HTML, tables, font styles and more with the editor. I avoid these when possible because they’re expensive both for me to implement (money) and the clients to learn (time) and use (time again!). ((There’s a third “time” cheap cost of this specific type of power too. It’s inefficient. There are faster ways to regularly add 20px red bold text or 15px gray italic text. The problem is if you want any combinations of styles. That power means having to choose three things every time instead of one set “style.”))

This is a hard trade-off to accept. We often want the Rolls Royce, but it comes with big trade-offs. When making decisions on website features, it’s important to be aware of what you give up when going for power and ease. It’s also why I wrote some time ago about the wisdom of learning to use a tool the way it was intended and not how you want it to work.

So what do you think? Does this make sense? Is this as universally true as the Free/Cheap/Good triangle?

2 thoughts on “Ease, Power, and Cost”

  1. I agree with your general triangle. It seems to me that it is hard to actually have all three at the same time. Easy to use can be made cheaply but it simply won’t be all that powerful.

    1. Thanks for commenting, @Beck. Indeed, the whole point is that it’s nearly impossible to have all three! Two is about as good as you can do.

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