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Why Life Can’t Be Simpler

https://fs.blog/2020/10/why-life-cant-be-simpler/

fs.blog

Why Life Can’t Be Simpler

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Wanting a simpler life

Wanting a simpler life

When we desire a simpler life, we normally mean we want products and services to have fewer steps, fewer controls, fewer options, less to consider. But we also want all the features and capabilities. These two ideas are often at odds.

Life can be really complicated. We face processes daily that seems to repeat itself. Each step needs the completion of a different task to make it possible. We use tools that require us to memorize knowledge and develop different skills just to use them, like figuring out the controls for a fridge.

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Conceptual models

A conceptual model is the underlying belief structure about how something works.

For example, on many computers, the process of dragging and dropping files into a folder seems simple because people already understand physical files and folders. But understanding it is only possible because of an effective conceptual model. A computer does not have files and folders and will store data in multiple places.

The complexity of a structure is all in the mind. When we want something to be simpler, we only need a better conceptual model of it.

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Tesler’s law of the conservation of complexity

"The total complexity of a system is a constant. If you make a user’s interaction with a system simpler, the complexity behind the scenes increases."

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The conservation of complexity

To do a difficult thing in the simplest way, we need a lot of options. When looking an any set of tools for a task, such as a digital photo editing program, a novice will see complexity. A professional sees a range of different tools, each of which is easy to use. They know how to use each option to make a task easier. Without an array of options, the task will be more complicated.

Complexity is a constant. It cannot be eliminated, only moved somewhere else. When something looks simple to use, it can be very complex inside. When something is simple inside, it can result in a complex surface.

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Every functionality requires control

The more complex something is, the more controls it needs, whether visible or invisible to the user.

  • From the user's view, products and services are automated. If you stay at an expensive hotel, your room is always as you want it. The staff handles the complexity behind the scenes to make it happen.
  • On the other end, we have products and services that require users to control every step. A professional photographer is likely to use a camera where they manually set every setting. The amateur photographer might use a camera that chooses the settings, transferring the complexity to the inner working.

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Lessons from the conservation of complexity

  • How simple something looks is not a reflection of how simple it is to use. If complexity is a constant, then there are trade-offs.
  • Things don't always need to be very simple for users. When a product or service is too simple, users can feel robbed of control. We should recognize that too much simplification leads to diminishing returns.
  • Products and services are only as good as what happens when they break.
  • The level of control you give customers or users will influence your workload.

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The importance of focusing on the similarities

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