Angelika Zerbe


The complexity of simplicity, part 2

In my blog article The complexity of simplicity - Part 1 I argued for the importance of simplicity and started to explain the principles of simplicity from John Maeda's book The laws of Simplicity. You can find the first four principles there. Here you can continue with the remaining six principles.

Opposites | simplicity and complexity are mutually dependent.

Without complexity we would not know what simplicity is. We need a comparison for every product or process, only then can we judge what is simpler for us. If there is a lot of complexity in the environment, everyone is much more likely to see the simple. One consequence of this is that a simple strategy can set us apart from technology, which is becoming more and more complex.

A comparison is always relative and can be influenced. The choices are decisive for how the user perceives something. Take a look at the graphic in the left construction below. The dark circle looks big. Now look at the right construction. Here the dark circle looks small. In fact both circles are the same size!

Context | The environment of simplicity is certainly not insignificant.

You can probably see a scrollbar on the right side of your browser window. This will help you to see how much of this blog article you have already read and how much will follow, and in a printed book we can see the progress even better by looking at the thickness of the pages you have read and the pages that follow. What is it like with an e-book? Would you like to see a progress bar on each page? An editor of an e-reader has to decide how much context he wants to offer the user. Of course, he could always prominently display which page the user is on and how many pages are still ahead.

Sometimes, however, inconspicuous clues are better for the experience: when hiking, there are often stone men along the way to show us the direction. These are easy to overlook and often not very clear. Instead of them it would be possible to set up a path wiser with an arrow and the inscription: "This is the way to go". Is that what we want? No, many hikers prefer to explore the path themselves and experience a certain feeling of adventure.

As a concept developer, you are therefore faced with the dilemma of whether you want to give the user maximum security or whether you prefer the exciting feeling of being able to explore something. Simplicity implies the feeling of having been found.

Emotion | More emotions are better than less emotions.

Writing messages quickly and easily is the main requirement of a chat application. Therefore it is questionable at first that we are willing to flip through pages of smileys to find the right icon! The text smiley, which was only invented in 1982, is now absolutely necessary so that we can better express our emotions in the written language. 🙂

Even if it contradicts the first principle of reduction, ornamental elements are sometimes necessary to include emotions. After reduction, the product can also appear bald, and Maeda's relatives have introduced him to Shintoism. This is a belief that all objects have a spirit. This mysticism of symbolic love can also be transferred to technical devices. With Tamagotchis, who in the meantime have been cared for like real animals, this had worked super in 1996.

Trust | We trust simplicity.

Many people just tell a navigation device to navigate them home and it will get them there safely. In the near future, we may not even have to drive ourselves. Concentration on driving will be less and we will gain time because we will no longer be able to get lost unnecessarily. But with anticipatory systems that reduce workload, a feeling of paternalism can also arise.

In addition, fear can arise, because you never know whether the technology really does not make any mistakes. Especially with new technologies, you have to weigh up how much the user needs to know about the system and how much the system needs to know about the user. After all, we never know who we can trust and if I have just found a gift for someone after a long search, residual doubts often creep up on me as to whether it is really the right thing to do. I gain security by being able to return the gift.

Why is the power to undo something so great? We do not have to trust in our own actions! Openness also creates trust. With open source software, everyone can look at the code and decide for themselves whether they can rely on the programme or not.a system can only be a working help to us if we trust it. We can only really relax if we trust that we are in the best hands and are treated with the best intentions.

Failures | Some things can never be made easy.

Maeda has tried to simplify a text. To do this he used many abbreviations and acronyms to reduce the amount of text. Afterwards nobody could read the text properly. Failure is part of the process of simplification, and you have to accept that not everything can be made simple. With this insight, the focus can be directed directly to the problems that can be solved, and we don't want everything to be simple! Complexity can be beautiful. Things that are fun can be complex. There are areas where complexity is the ideal today. A simple person can be perceived by others as uninteresting or even stupid.we should not pursue impossible goals in simplification and be aware that simplicity is not desired for all areas of life.

The One | Simplicity is created by omitting the obvious and adding the meaningful.

The tenth principle is a summary of all the principles mentioned, to which one can always adhere and the call to use less to achieve more!

More complex or simpler?

Many things that are technologically solved today do not require a technological solution. For example, it is often better to give a lecture without an accompanying presentation with laptop and beamer. If we ask whether the things that surround us really help us, we can quickly make our own lives easier. We should also question digital products and check whether the principles of Maeda have been considered.

Angelika Zerbe

UX Konzepter & NN/g UX certified


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