The Quest for Simplicity
Most of the times we think as complexity as something bad. And I tended to fall in that pitfall myself. Until one day when I was having a conversation with a product manager, and he was showing me how the flight schedule of Schipol Airport in Amsterdam was organised. He was showing me all the tables and data, and how the system worked. And he understood it perfectly, but for me, it looked like a basic and weird excel sheet. Frankly, I couldn’t understand a cent of what he was seeing in it. But then I realised that for him, that mess, that complexity is simplicity. If you give it a proper thought you will realise that simplicity is only a matter of perception and perspective. It’s not only on a physical but rather more on a brain level. How you feel and how you see it. It has almost nothing to do with the physical form. For example, if you are able to create an image, a feeling of simplicity, only by changing the copy and without making any changes to the core, then you succeeded in creating a great product. Complexity is often thought to have a negative meaning, synonymous with difficulty and confusion. That may be true, but only if we equate it with differentiation alone. Yet complexity also involves a second dimension — the integration of autonomous parts. A complex engine, for instance, not only has many separate components, each performing a different function, but also demonstrates a high sensitivity because of each components in touch with all the others. Without integration, a differentiated system would be a confusing mess — Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi Perception is key In 2000, the management at Houston airport (US) was receiving a significant amount of complaints from the travelers, on how long it takes to wait for the baggage. In response, the management dedicated a budget for improving the logistics, and on paper, the amount of time was reduced by 8 minutes. At first glance, everything looks rational and well spent. But in reality, the number of complaints did not change. And here is where the power of designing perceptions rather than solutions comes in. Instead of investing more into personnel, who can handle the baggage, they took a psychological approach. The management focused on improving the subjective reality of things. One crucial fact they discovered was that people spent about a minute walk to the carousel and eight minutes waiting. In this case they re-routed passengers after passport control, so they had to walk further. This meant they spent eight minutes walking to the carousel and just a minute waiting. Even though picking time of their bags was the same, complaints went down. What matters more, in this case, is the perception that you are waiting less. Even if it means taking longer time to get to a baggage belt. Or as Rory Sutherland said in one of his talks “A solution to a problem in the 21st century may not be the answer. Instead, perception may be.” The enemy of simplicity is not complexity, but messiness (disorder). And the enemy of complexity is also disorder — Marty Neumeier, 46 Rules for Genius While complexity seeks order through addition, simplicity seeks it through subtraction. Most people have a built-in bias toward addition instead of subtraction. For some reason, the concept of more comes naturally to us. Yet the innovator knows that the value of any design doesn’t lie in how much is piled on, but how much is disregarded. And simplicity, the same as user research, is a matter of…
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