IA Summit 12: Dimensions of Complexity

The last regular talk I attended at the summit was Dimensions of Complexity by Nadine Schaeffer. It was a fantastic talk about the dimensions and attributes of complexity and how to focus complexity. 

The Necessity of Complexity

Complexity is necessary. In order to have mega systems and scientific breakthroughs, everything can’t be simple. We need to allow people to get from novice to master. The iPhone is often touted for it’s simplicity, but when you think about the engineering that went into the product when it lead the market with the technology, that was not simple. Complexity is everywhere, it is natural and beautiful.

Why We Fear the Complex

We fear complexity because of the cognitive overload and chaos. We prefer quick easy thinking, however slow thinking has been shown to be more accurate.

Dimensions of Complexity

There are three dimensions of complexity each with specific attributes.

  • The Human Dimension – Skills, Education, Language, Culture
  • Volume & Quantity – Data, Objects, Tasks, Rules
  • Change over Time – User Skills, User Behavior, Product Focus, Product Features

Complex Applications

Things like Logistics, Remote Monitoring, Database Management, Accounting, Analytics, Finance, 3D Modeling, and Engineering are very complex.

Complexity Toolkit: Heuristics & Solutions

  • Prioritize Tasks – Use things like weighting, rankings, segmentation and grouping.
  • Patterns – Use patterns and consistency. There is no need to reinvent the wheel.  Research whats currently being done.
  • Data Visualizations – Tell a story and make it beautiful. Interesting visualizations, graphs, charts, etc. Data is rich and full of insight, show that visually.
  • Roles – Match the UI to the roles people play. People use software differently, don’t reveal complexities of roles that don’t matter to the current user.
  • Learn  - Learn and adapt based on  the user. Personalized experiences.
  • Reveal – Expose complexity when necessary. The cockpit of a jet should be complex.
  • Zoom - Re-frame what the user is looking at. Org Chars, Maps, Document Views. What level of data exposure is needed, and how can they move in and out.
  • Social – Social and emotive design can mitigate complexity and provide motivation. Competition, Leader Boards, Rankings, Sharing, Cooperation.
  • No UI – The simplest UI is no UI, what can be done by the back end, or through another medium?

Recommended Reading

Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman

Slides