Living with Complexity

UXLx | 2011 See all

Living with Complexity

Speaker: Don Norman

Complexity is not only good, it is essential. Our lives are complex as are the activities we do. Our tools must match the activities. People think they want simplicity, but they are wrong, as evidenced by the fact that when offered the choice between a very simple product and one with more features, they opt for the feature-laden one. We don't want simplicity: we want understanding. Complex things can be made understandable: that is the role of good design. One solution is modularity, which is why we have so many different kitchen utensils. Which is why owing a portable computer, a desktop computer, a smart phone, and a pad computer -- all of them -- makes sense for some people. Each is used for a different reason, in a different setting for different purposes.
Managing complexity is a partnership. Designers have to produce things that tame complexity. But we too have to do our part: we have to take the time to learn the structure and practice the skills. This is how we mastered reading and writing, driving a car, and playing sports, and this is how we can master our complex tools.

Complexity is good. Simplicity is misleading. The good life is complex, rich, and rewarding—but only if it is understandable, sensible, and meaningful.