UX London: In Favour of Complexity

by Luke Wroblewski June 14, 2009

Don Norman's In Favour of Complexity keynote at UX London 2009 made the case for complexity with order, lucidity and understandability.

  • People cry out for simplicity. Our stuff is too complex, we want things to be easier. When everyone is asking for something, tend to take the opposite approach.
  • We should all seek simplicity and distrust it.
  • Life is Complex, Tools must match life, Understanding (not simplicity), It’s about design.
  • It’s not easy to get simple products out to market. Many people can improve products through a process. To make something simple is hard.
  • An entire system’s complexity is unchanged. You just can move complexity around. By making it easier for the programmer me make things harder for the user.
  • Some complex things are understandable and great.
  • Simple things can be confusing: everyday objects often need additional clarification. Many simple things turn up often in life and through multiplicity and create complexity.
  • Culture matters. In Asia, crowded designs are quite popular.
  • Google is optimized for Search. Yahoo! is optimized for exploration. With Google it takes more work to explore. Google is the most popular search engine but Yahoo! is the most popular home page, finance site, etc.
  • One way of dealing with complexity is ignoring it.
  • People with messy offices can usually find things better than people with super clean offices.
  • People prefer complex things. If too simple, it’s boring. Experience moves the preferred complexity up. Complexity is a moving target not a fixed target.
  • Category error: comparing a paintbrush with an artist’s studio
  • There’s a sweet spot for complexity. The problem is that it keeps moving.
  • If you increase skill, you have to increase difficulty. Engagement occurs when people are in the flow: a very enjoyable and productive state.
  • Needless complexity: music notation is modal depending on the clef and has many variations with exceptions. One solution is the chromatic scale on a 5-line staff. What does it take to get things adopted? That’s the hard part. Those who need to lead the change often don’t see a reason to change.
  • When a new consumer good is released to the world, reviewers get a hold of it. Reviewers, salespeople, and feature-minded marketing are the reason for needless complexity.
  • People believe as you add more features, you add more capability. Making more feature-laden products more desirable. We also believe adding more features decreases usability. Both are wrong.
  • How do we solve the complexity problem? First approach: design
  • Can contain complexity by modularizing actions.
  • Teachable moments help people manage complex interactions.
  • Conceptual models can be used understand complex systems but may not scale very well. Hierarchical file systems no longer scale at large data sets.
  • Systems thinking can help manage complexity. iPod & iTunes are a system for integration. An SAP database powers the Tunes music store.
  • Amazon Kinlde is the only e-reader that has integrated a service into the device. No passwords, networks needed to access books.