Don Norman: Living with complexity

May 16, 2011
  • Life is complex
    Or more importantly, complexity (vs simple) is not the same as being complicated (i.e. difficult, vs understandable) — ordering a Korean meal is complex but understandable, rows of light switches simple but complicated.
  • Tools must match life
    We adapt ourselves if the result is worth it, be it organising our rooms to power points or learning the violin. However, a hack is a sure sign that there’s a problem and a workaround. While in the past he’d have said to use affordances for this, he now prefers the word signifiers, as designers signify activity.
  • Understanding not simplicity
    People with messy desks can often find things they need quicker than those who stow it away because their storage mental model is more visible. Another example is some London street crossings — with their messages repeated in different ways (signs, road markings, traffic lights), they’re not simple, but similarly easy to ignore the redundant signs.
    Norman showed that people’s preference for complexity
  • It’s all about design
    The biggest enemy of design is needless complexity (encouraged by marketers, critics, and simple minded thinking).
    He suggests to make it activity based (rather than human centred)— a great example is the Logitech Harmony Remote, which rather than try to be an all-in-one remote instead allows you to do the actions you would like to on each device — and make it come together seamlessly (e.g. as iTunes or Kindle does).

Don Norman on UXLX11, summarised by Johnny Holland

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