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Complexity is generally used to characterize something with many parts where those parts interact with each other in multiple ways. (source: Wikipedia)


Some (design) challenges are complex by nature.

“A complex system consists of numerous interacting agents and the interactions are key for the complexity, yielding unpredictable emergent behaviors and systems that are changing over time. Complex systems are always non-linear, which means that only because A resulted in B once it won’t necessarily do so the next time A happens. There’re no well-defined problems so solve, rather a problem space to act in, and there’s no such thing as right or wrong, only better or worse.”

(Anna Viggedal ~ Ericsson UX Lab blog)

Systemic design principles for complex social systems

Economic, technological and social trends force designers to do some deep reflective thinking on what they’re working on.

“Systemic design is not a design discipline (e.g. graphic or industrial design) but an orientation, a next-generation practice developed by necessity to advance design practices in systemic problems. As a strong practice of design, the ultimate aim is to co-design better policies, programs and service systems. The methods and principles enabling systemic design are drawn from many schools of thought, in both systems and design thinking. The objective of the systemic design project is to affirmatively integrate systems thinking and systems methods to guide human-centered design for complex, multi-system and multi-stakeholder services and programs.”

(Peter Jones a.k.a. @redesign)

Cognitive overhead, or why your product isn’t as simple as you think

Designing for simplicity versus complexity is a zero-sum game.

“Put your user in the middle of your flow. Make them press an extra button, make them provide some inputs, let them be part of the service-providing, rather than a bystander to it. If they are part of the flow, they have a better vantage point to see what’s going on. Automation is great, but it’s a layer of cognitive complexity that should be used carefully.”

(David Lieb a.k.a. @dflieb ~ TechCrunch)

The History Of Usability: From Simplicity To Complexity

Complexity increases when objects and their relations are added all the time and at multiple levels of abstraction.

“The story of usability is a perverse journey from simplicity to complexity. That’s right, from simplicity to complexity – not the other way around. (…) Usability is a messy, ill-defined, and downright confusing concept.”

(Mads Soegaard ~ Smashing Magazine) ~ courtesy of janjursa

Complexity and User Experience

Great to see B&A revitalising.

Understanding features in terms of complexity instead of functionality ~ “The best products don’t focus on features, they focus on clarity. Problems should be fixed through simple solutions, something you don’t have to configure, maintain, control. The perfect solution needs to be so simple and transparent you forget it’s even there. However, elegantly minimal designs don’t happen by chance. They’re the result of difficult decisions. Whether in the ideation, designing, or the testing phases of projects, UX practitioners have a critical role in restraining the feature sets within our designs to reduce the complexity on projects.”

(Jon Bolt a.k.a. @epic_bagel ~ Boxes and Arrows)

Making sense of and filtering information overload

“The new generation of web tools are enabling us to collaborate to filter massive information overload. Creating visual frameworks can be a powerful way of making sense of information. The role of futurists is pattern recognition. Selective filtering to reinforce our biases is not new. Most of us will experience more diverse views than before the web.” (Ross Dawson ~ Trends in the Living Networks)

Simplicity is Not Overrated, Just Misunderstood

“Usability and user experience design is all about making things simple and easy to use. I never would’ve expected such a contradictory statement coming from some one who co-founded the Nielsen and Norman group, a firm that offers usability consulting, training seminars and research reports. This statement puts a dagger into the back of usability and user experience design.” (UX Movement)

Managing UI Complexity

“Interface complexity is an issue every designer wrestles with when designing a reasonably sophisticated application. A complex interface can reduce user effectiveness, increase the learning curve of the application, and cause users to feel intimidated and overwhelmed.” (Brandon Walkin) – courtesy of lievenbaeten

Simplicity in Your Mind

“There is increasing interest in the simplification of information technology (IT). The IT industry is recognizing the need to simplify software technology as businesses express their increased interest in governing the return on their IT investments. Two goals are surfacing as explicit mandates to which all software vendors are responding: (1) lowering the skills required of software users and (2) increasing their productivity. Although this simplification mandate is most essential to small- and medium-sized businesses, where people with high-end technical skills may not be affordable, an awareness of the damage complexity inflicts on users is spreading to the enterprise market as well. Commoditization pressures make it necessary for the IT industry to reduce skills requirements as well as service and maintenance costs.” (Lucinio SantosUXmatters)

Simplicity Patterns

“The MIT Media Lab’s John Maeda lives at the intersection of technology and art — a place that can get very complicated. Here, he talks about paring down to basics, and how he creates clean, elegant art, websites and web tools. In his book Laws of Simplicity, he offers 10 rules and 3 keys for simple living and working — but in this talk, he boils it down to one simply delightful way to be.” (TED: Ideas worth spreading) – courtesy of digitalwebmagazine


“Devotees of simplicity will bring up 37signals and the Apple iPod as anecdotal proof that Simple Sells. I would argue that in both these cases, success is a result of a combination of things: building an audience, evangelism, clean and spare design, emotional appeal, aesthetics, fast response time, direct and instant user feedback, program models which correspond to the user model resulting in high usability, and putting the user in control, all of which are features of one sort, in the sense that they are benefits that customers like and pay for, but none of which can really be described as ‘simplicity’.” (Joel Spolsky)

Presentations and the ‘Laws of Simplicity’

“John Maeda’s book, The Laws of Simplicity, is a good quick read. I love the clear presentation of the ideas in the book and the fact that the author imposed a limit of 100 pages for himself, an idea consistent with his Third Law: ‘Savings in time feels like simplicity’. This book is not the final word on the topic of, of course, and in fact more is to come soon on the topic by MIT press.” (Garr Reynolds – Presentation Zen)

The Laws of Simplicity

“(..) we are learning that simplicity equals sanity. We’re rebelling against technology that’s too complicated, DVD players with too many menus, and software accompanied by 75-megabyte ‘Read Me’ manuals. The iPod’s clean gadgetry has made simplicity hip. But sometimes we find ourselves caught up.” (John Maeda)