There is no simple

by October 26, 2010

Keep it simple, stupid. “KISS” is one of the most commonly referred to principles in modern business, and its spirit permeates everything from the carefully-considered design of Apple’s sleek user interfaces to the unchecked frustration of a customer returning a DVD player that was too complex for human understanding.

But what if “simple” can be taken too far? What if a dose of complexity is in fact precisely what we need to face the far-from-simple world around us? Pointing to the essential and necessary complexity — a “good” complexity — of things as disparate as messy desks and aircraft cockpits, product design theorist and psychologist Donald Norman argues just this in his just-released book, Living with Complexity (MIT Press):

My challenge is to explore the nature of complexity, to relish its depth, richness, and beauty at the same time that I fight against unnecessary complications, the arbitrary, capricious nature of much of our technology. Bad design has no excuse. Good design can help tame the complexity, not by making things less complex—for the complexity is required—but by managing the complexity.

The keys to coping with complexity are to be found in two aspects of understanding. First is the design of the thing itself that determines its understandability. Does it have an underlying logic, a foundation that, once mastered, makes everything fall into place? Second is our own set of abilities and skills: Have we taken the time and effort to understand and master the structure? Understandability and understanding: two critical keys to mastery.

Read the rest of the first chapter here.