The premise of Donald Norman’s Living With Complexity is that although we constantly hear pleas for simplicity, people don’t actually want simplicity. They want complex products and systems… Just not complicated ones. As Norman explains, simplicity is in the mind. Although a product might be complex, with good communication a user’s interaction with the product can feel simple and straightforward.
Everyone wants simplicity, but that request misses the point. Simplicity is not the goal. We do not wish to give up the power and flexibility of our technologies. My single-button garage door opener may be simple, but it hardly does anything. If my cell phone had only one button it certainly would be simple, but all I could do would be turn it on or off: I wouldn’t be able to make a phone call. Is the piano too complex because it has eight-eight keys and three pedals? Surely no piece of music uses all of those keys. So should we simplify it? The cry for simplicity misses the point.
The book builds on Norman’s previous book The Design of Everyday Things which I wrote about previously. The book is a good read for anyone designing complex products or systems. Norman’s primary focus is on creating successful interactions between user and product/service.