Here is another in my series on SXSW events. I am pleased to be attending SXSW for the first time. I am grateful for Adobe Acrobat for enabling me to attend. I will be attending their all day Creative Camp Event on March 12, as well as some other Adobe sponsored sessions. As I do with other events I will be posting my notes from most of the sessions I attend. This is the session on The Complexity Curve: How to Design for Simplicity led by David Hogue VP of Experience Design Fluid Inc I was lucky to go early as there was a line outside by the time it stated. Please excuse typos as this is done near real time. Here is the session description:
“Interfaces and devices are providing more and more power and functionality to people, and in many cases this additional power is accompanied by increasing complexity. Although people have more experience and are more sophisticated, it still takes time to learn new interfaces, information, and interactions. Although we are able to learn and use these often difficult interfaces, we increasingly seek and appreciate simplicity.
The Complexity Curve describes how a project moves from boundless opportunity and wonderful ideas to requirements checklists and constraints then finally (but only rarely) to simplicity and elegance. Where many projects call themselves complete when the necessary features have been included, few push forward and strive to deliver the pleasing and delightful experiences that arise from simplicity, focus, and purpose.
In this session, David M. Hogue, Ph.D. - VP of Experience Design, applied psychologist, and adjunct faculty member at San Francisco State University - will introduce the Complexity Curve, discuss why our innovative ideas seem to fade over the course of a project, explain why "feature complete" is not the same as "optimal experience", and offer some methods for driving projects toward simplicity and elegance.”
David first made sure everyone had a seat. David is an applied psychologist and UI designer. Complexity is easier than simplicity. I agree and remember that Thelonius Monk said that simplicity was true genius. He sited the complexity of digital watches. I feel the pain here – I just remember for half the year my digital clocks like my car are an hour off as I do not know how to change them. My wrist watch is manual and I use my iPhone as a pocket watch.
David shared definitions of complexity. First he looked at designers. We hear words like: clean and simple, lots of negative speech, avoid noise. Also hierarchy is important. Then easy interactivity is key so you want to eliminate unnecessary content. The goals are important. The IRS form is very complex. Structure is key. How are things connected and organized? The structure provides movements that make sense or confuse. The registration line at SXSW is a classic example of bad design.
Now he looked at the perspective people or users. This is very different than designers. People find that the Web often does not do what they do. The key tasks need to more upfront. People think of complexity in terms of relevance rather than visual design. The US Air Force has designed the controls of every plane in the same way. I wish cars did this, as every new rental car can be a challenge.
He moved on the chaos theory by Lorenz. This is the basis of Darwin Ecosystem, a content discovery tool I am connected with. He found the Lorenz attractor in a butterfly shape. Chaos has several characteristics. It is dynamic but it is deterministic but these are not predictable but it is not random. So you can find self–organizing systems. Darwin uses this to avoid SEO. So weather prediction is a bit better for few more days out but not long term. Some things are naturally complex. Lorenz equation had six variables.
Now David moved to the complexity curve for design. It seems simple at first but new features are raised, we come up with new ideas, reviewers want one more thing, and more and more. Then the system gets overloaded. Then go you get to point where all features are there but it is too complexity. How do you trim it down is hard? This is why there are many Flickr images on Web pages that suck.
There are three components of models; the mental model, the conceptual model, and the system model. These models need to be consistent for simplicity to occur. If you shift attention from task to interface that means there is a mismatch in models.
Design patterns are also key. We tend to borrow patterns that were successful elsewhere that do not work in new situations. Password security is a good example and I would agree completely. There are also dark patterns that do things like link you to ads when you do not want to do. We have to be careful when you are creating patterns. He gave the example of the Edsel that had a good and bad patterns and was a failure.
Scope increase is a challenge here. New stakeholders can cause havoc. Technical and legal requirements can be a problem, as well as marketing requirements.
High cognitive load leads to sense of complexity. If you have to think about stuff too much and it diverts us from real task. Declarative knowledge moves to procedural knowledge to automatic link driving a car. When you get to the automatic level it seems simple. You need to get people there.
We also do not want over simple. As Einstein said, “everything should be as simple as possible and no simpler.” So now David started on how to make things simpler and move down the complexity curve.
We need to look for advances in technology to make things simpler. The digital watch was inspired by inclusion as a prop in the movie 2001. It took four years to make it work.
People are the next factor. Learning is sometimes essential, as we cannot make it simpler. Look for similar things that can serve as models. This can be very effective.
Designers should leverage their ignorance before that get to embedded in the project. Write down the ideas that people said could not work. Try to make it happen in new ways. Always put the end user first. Design for motivation, behavior, emotion, and creativity. We want feel happy and play. Need to watch conceptual models and make sure they align. Mental models can over time. Look at Blackberry vs. iPhone. A Blackberry was like a tiny laptop. The iPhone changed everything in mobile apps.
Simplicity is not just about reduction. He quoted Einstein again (see above). Use iteration. Watch what people are doing. Make it easier for people to do what they are already. The key ingredient is critical thinking. Think about what you are doing, Then take a things a few steps further. Then question things. There is no checklist here.