The Simplicity Cycle

A graphical exploration of the relationship between complexity, goodness and time By Dan Ward

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Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler. - Albert Einstein

1

THE SIMPLICITY CYCLE

I was about to begin a demonstration of my latest project for the U.S. Navy, when the Lieutenant Commander sitting across from me held up her hand. “Wait. Before you begin, I want to say something. I don’t care how good your system is. If it isn’t easy to use, I don’t want it.”1 I sat back in my chair for a moment and thought about what I had just heard. She doesn’t care how good the system is? What a remarkable statement! All the cool features and functions in the world wouldn’t be interesting to her team, unless they were simple. In fact, she was saying that complexity trumps goodness. That conversation stuck with me for a long time, and it got me thinking…

1

Fortunately for me, the system I brought with me was very easy to use… and she did like it.

2

“I don’t care how good your system is. If it isn’t easy to use, I don’t want it.”

3

THE SIMPLICITY CYCLE

Actually, a number of things were coming together right around that time, converging into the ideas which eventually became the Simplicity Cycle. There was some poetry by Cliff Crego. There were hallway conversations with engineers, and conference room discussions with senior managers. There was the insight that simplicity and ease of use aren’t necessarily the same thing. There were a whole bunch of other things I don’t even recall any more. Through it all, I felt I was on the verge of understanding something important about system design, complexity and utility. My first attempt to represent the idea looked like the diagram on the facing page. There’s some truth there, but it wasn’t quite right.

Something was still missing.
4

The Simplicity Cycle, Early Draft

Quality

Complexity

5

THE SIMPLICITY CYCLE

The journey continued. I talked with more people, read more books, and things began to fall into place. I learned some things. I unlearned some other things. I gathered some new pieces of information. I set some pieces aside and put other pieces together. And when I finally settled on the diagram on the next page, I realized something. This diagram not only described the process of learning a new subject or designing a system, it also described the path I’d traveled in producing the diagram itself. Don’t worry if it doesn’t make sense yet. We’ll go through each piece, then fit the pieces together. You’ll see.

6

Complexity

Goodness

7

THE SIMPLICITY CYCLE

Complexity is one of those words that has many definitions, some more involved and convoluted than others. Connoisseurs use it to describe the flavor attributes of things like coffee, wine and chocolate. Physicists and mathematicians mean something very precise when they use the word. For example, some draw a distinction between “detail complexity” and “dynamic complexity.” (You won’t need to worry about those concepts here.) There’s a place called The Santa Fe Institute, where very smart people study things called complex systems. As you might guess, there’s even a large body of academic literature focused on “complexity science.” The elaborate, specialized and overlapping definitions used by these different groups are no doubt useful and necessary in their own contexts. In this book, we deliberately use a simple definition, based on the word’s general usage.

Complexity: Consisting of interconnected parts.
Lots of interconnected parts equals a high degree of complexity. Few interconnected parts equals a low degree of complexity.

I wish it was that simple.
8

9

THE SIMPLICITY CYCLE

The reason it’s not that simple has to do with the tiny little word “lots.” That’s a very subjective word. For better or worse, there is no absolute scale we can use to rigorously define “lots,” as if any number of parts larger than X constitutes a lot.

Context is everything.
So, while the consisting of interconnected parts definition is simple, applying that definition and establishing a qualitative assessment of whether or not a system has a lot or a little is, well, not so easy. It’s basically a judgment call. An example might add some clarity: The number 100 is intrinsically neither large nor small. 100 interconnected parts is a lot if we’re talking about a pencil sharpener, but a little if we’re talking about a jet aircraft. Again, context is everything. We’ll come back to this concept in more detail later, but it’s important to mention it briefly now.

10

Lo t s Lo t Lo ts s Lo t Lo ts s Lo ts Lots Lots Lots Lots Lots Lots Lots Lots Lots Lots Lots Lots Lots Lots Lots Lots Lots Lots Lots Lots

LOTS lots LOTS lots LOTS 
 



Lots

Lots?

Lots

11

THE SIMPLICITY CYCLE

Now is also a good time to introduce the concept of efficiency as it relates to complexity. An efficient system has just the right number of interconnected parts, each of which carries its own weight and contributes positively to the overall operation of the system. An efficient system has no gratuitous elements. It operates with minimal friction, effort and waste. Whether comprised of 10 or 10 million parts, an efficient system does not have “a lot” of interconnected pieces. It has just enough. In Simplicity Cycle terms, an efficient system has a low level of complexity. Using these words this way is a philosophical and literary position, not a scientific one. Some readers may take exception to this approach, and they may be right. I imagine some of them will even write me letters. But for my own reasons (which will hopefully become clear as the book progresses), I’m using a relatively simple definition of complexity, and connecting it with the concept of efficiency. OK, I think we’re ready to start walking through the diagram now.

12

GO
13

THE SIMPLICITY CYCLE

The action in the Simplicity Cycle takes place on an x-y axis, shown on the facing page. We’ve already talked about the definition we’re using for Complexity, which runs along the vertical axis, so let me take a moment to describe what I mean by the word on the horizontal axis: Goodness. As with complexity, context is everything. In the Simplicity Cycle, goodness is a general term that means slightly different things depending on the application and context. If we are talking about a technology or a system, goodness represents operational functionality or utility. For an academic discipline, it represents increased understanding. For system design, it reflects design maturity. If the context is art, maybe goodness means beauty.

14

Complexity

Goodness
15

THE SIMPLICITY CYCLE

Everyone starts at the bottom left corner, in the Region of the Simplistic. Here, complexity is low, and so is goodness. We haven’t learned or done very much yet, but that’s alright. We all have to start somewhere… this is the somewhere. In mathematics, this is where we discover numbers and encounter things like 1+1=2. In aircraft design, it’s where we make paper airplanes. In art, we draw lines and stick figures. In other words, in this region we lay a foundation for all the progress and work that follows. But it quickly gets boring, so we usually don’t stay here very long. I’ve drawn a square in that region, as a graphical metaphor for a unit of knowledge, a unit of development, a piece of the design. Remember, context is everything, so this square means different things in different contexts. The point is, at this point there’s only one.

16

Complexity

Simplistic

Goodness
17

THE SIMPLICITY CYCLE

The path out of Region 1 involves moving towards the middle of the chart. Movement in this direction – up and to the right – involves directly proportional increases in both goodness and complexity. Progress along this slope, the complexity slope, can be described as learning and creating. In a word, the slope is about genesis, the production and addition of new parts. For mathematicians, our use of numbers and simple addition grows to include things like multiplication, division, and algebra. Now, rather than 1+1=2, we are working with things like the equation of a line (Y=mX+b), which requires the introduction of letters to go with the numbers. Complexity has increased. So has goodness, because we can do more with algebra than with arithmetic. For system designers, travel along this path involves adding new pieces, parts, and functions. This is where researchers collect data. Aircraft designers leave paper airplanes behind and move on to scale models, wind tunnels, and operational prototypes.

18

Complexity

Complexity Slope

Goodness
19

THE SIMPLICITY CYCLE

It is reasonable to conclude that an increase in complexity causes the increase in goodness. It probably does. However, we have now come across one of the primary myths of complexity—a common but erroneous belief that complexity and goodness are always directly proportional, and an increase in one dimension equates to an increase in the other. To be more precise, there is a widespread misperception that increasing complexity always increases goodness. I know people who worship at the Church Of Complexity will think I am a heretic when I say this, but the truth is, complexity and goodness are not always directly proportional. Gasp! Increased complexity does increase goodness – but only to a point. Eventually we arrive at the second region, (located in the center of the graph), where complexity and goodness have achieved a critical mass. This is the Region of the Complex. In practical terms, the number of elements involved has substantially increased beyond the original simplistic situation. A meaningful degree of functionality and maturity (a.k.a. goodness) has been demonstrated. In metaphorical terms, we’ve amassed a collection of lots and lots of squares.

20

Complexity

Complex

Goodness
21

THE SIMPLICITY CYCLE

To continue using the aircraft example, the first Wright Flyer fits in this category quite nicely. It was a rather complex machine and required a fair amount of effort and maintenance to keep it aloft. Its creation was primarily the product of genesis and learning, as new information was produced and new functions and elements were added to earlier designs. The first Wright Flyer also demonstrated a wholly new ability: manned flight in a heavier-than-air vehicle. Thus, it can be said to have a moderate degree of both complexity and goodness. But looking back, it didn’t go very far or very fast and it couldn’t carry much weight (which isn’t to say it wasn’t impressive!).

22

23

THE SIMPLICITY CYCLE

Life in Region 2 typically involves a nontrivial amount of effort and strain. Significant resources, either mental or physical, are usually required in order to achieve or maintain the desired outcome. If you are working hard to create a design, solve a mathematical problem, or perform a task, chances are good you’re here… and there’s nothing wrong with that. There are actually two paths out of this region, and neither follows the earlier trajectory of increases to both complexity and goodness. It’s simply not possible to continue moving up and to the right, increasing both complexity and goodness. If complexity continues to increase, goodness actually decreases. As Darrell Mann explained, “the problems that come with the increased complexity outweigh the benefits,”2 The only available paths are perpendicular to our previous vector. From this point, any substantial increase in goodness actually requires a decrease in complexity. That is, improved utility or increased understanding requires some amount of simplification—represented by downward movement along the yaxis.

2

ww.triz-journal.com/archives/2003/01/

24

Complexity

Goodness
25

THE SIMPLICITY CYCLE

One pitfall that designers, engineers, and academicians may fall prey to is the belief that continuing to increase complexity – an activity that worked nicely to get us from Region 1 to Region 2 – will continue to produce increases in goodness. It just isn’t the case. That belief moves us up and to the left, along The Complication Slope. This is genesis-gone-wild, cancerous growth. It is the product of “over-learning” and smugness, where people fall in love with complexity. Poet Cliff Crego illuminates this situation when he writes “complication leads to contradiction.” He verbally paints images of gears grinding against each other. Remember, complexity in this context is connected to the idea of efficiency, and a high level of complexity indicates excessive inefficiency.

26

Complexity

Complication Slope

Goodness
27

THE SIMPLICITY CYCLE

Generating new-and-necessary elements moved us to the region of the Complex. Generating too many parts leads to the Region of the Complicated. Now, “complex” and “complicated” may sound similar, but they are in fact two very different beasts. Complexity is often both essential and unavoidable. As MIT’s simplicity guru John Maeda famously said, “Some things can never be made simple.” Certain topics, issues, activities and missions are inherently complex – and there’s nothing wrong with that. But complicatedness is bad. Think of it as unnecessary complexity. It’s caused by the addition of non-value added parts, of gears that turn without reason or grind against other gears. A friend of mine describes it as “one of those things that gets crappier the more you improve on the design.” On the facing page, I added a cluster of squiggles to the earlier collection of squares. These squiggles do not represent creativity – they represent mere complicatedness, and a decrease in goodness.

28

Complicated

Complexity

Goodness
29

THE SIMPLICITY CYCLE

Increasing complexity beyond the degree required to reach the region of the Complex actually indicates a decrease in understanding, design maturity, and functional utility – a decrease in goodness. It’s a step backwards along the x-axis, although some people take misguided comfort in the positive movement along the y-axis. It generally means we are over-thinking a problem or over-engineering a solution. Think of it as achieving “the complexity on the other side of understanding,” My wife described this situation as “the smarter you are, the dumber you get.” That points towards the illusion that complexity and goodness are always directly proportional. Moving in this direction (toward the upper-left quadrant of our chart) is not a question of getting smarter – it is a question of simply producing a more complicated output… and not in a good way. Here we find the learned academician who everyone assumes is brilliant because nobody can understand a word he says. In fact, his academics may simply be complicated and have very limited goodness. All those extra squiggles are not very useful, no matter how complex. Software developers refer to this as the State Explosion Problem, because the state space grows exponentially with the number of components. In layman’s terms, the more pieces you have, the more possible interactions there are between those pieces. It quickly becomes unwieldy to operate and virtually impossible to comprehensively test every possible state.
30

Something of true value does not become more valuable because it becomes complicated. - Donald Curtis

31

THE SIMPLICITY CYCLE

Software developer Joel Spolsky wrote a fantastic essay on unnecessary complexity, titled Choices=Headaches.3 He counted a total of 15 different ways to shut down a laptop running Microsoft’s Vista operating system, including sleep, hibernate, Switch User, four different function key combinations, closing the lid, and, of course, the on-off button. As he explained, there was probably a good reason for adding each method, but no good reason for adding them all. Giving users one more option might sound harmless, or even beneficial, but if it’s the 15th good idea for performing the same function, that’s a sign you are on the complication slope. This is a key principle. We can often justify adding new parts independently, but each exists within the context of a larger system. As Peter Senge advises in The Fifth Discipline, we need to take a system-level perspective when determining whether a component increases or decreases goodness. So… designers should examine the design and ruthlessly scrub out redundancy and mediocrity, no matter how well-intentioned. That may sound obvious, but Microsoft’s Vista Power Down Committee apparently skipped that step. Some might mildly object that extra features don’t really get in the way, but that is the wrong question. We should ask rather if the features provide positive goodness. It’s not enough to be harmless. Components should actually be useful, and as Spolsky pointed out, too many “harmless” additions cause headaches.

3

www.joelonsoftware.com/items/2006/11/21.html

32

15 ways to power down your computer

Complexity

B’bye Button

Goodness
33

THE SIMPLICITY CYCLE

Rube Goldberg’s absurd machines were designed to poke fun at our tendency to overvalue complexity. He described his creations as “symbols of man’s capacity for exerting maximum effort to accomplish minimal results.” On the facing page we see Bartlett F. Waldo’s Tympandemonic AcousticallyActivated Garage Door Opener, by American artist Frederick W. Bartlett II, who drew similarly-themed devices. This handy little gadget uses a complicated series of levers, gears, cannonballs and some sort of animal to “automatically” open a garage door.4 The large poster version of the device is accompanied by a detailed explanation of each step. The devices drawn by Bartlett and Goldberg clearly reside in the upper left corner of the Simplicity Cycle diagram. Unlike other residents of that region, these ended up there on purpose. They deliberately accomplish in five steps a task that should only take one, and the end result is no better than that achieved by simpler, more direct methods. It’s funny when they do it on purpose. It’s less funny when we do it unintentionally.

4

See more of Frederick Bartlett’s art at www.fbartcreations.com

34

35

THE SIMPLICITY CYCLE

In Ambient Findability, information architect Peter Morville makes an interesting observation about the value of information. As the curve in the shaded box on the facing page shows, decision quality actually decreases once the volume of information reaches critical mass. In fact, according to research at King’s College in London (cited by Morville), information overload harms concentration more than marijuana use. Let’s translate this concept into the vocabulary of the Simplicity Cycle. Information volume is really just a specific case of complexity. Adding information means adding pieces, and a large volume of information has a high degree of complexity. Decision quality, then, is a specific application of what we generally refer to as Goodness. A high quality decision has a high degree of goodness. So, if we use those terms and flip the axes, we end up with the familiar pattern identified earlier – increases in complexity cause an initial increase in goodness, then lead to a decrease in goodness. The trick, as usual, is to recognize the signs of information overload… and do something about it before decision quality suffers and you start to get the munchies.

36

Decision Quality

Information Volume

Information Volume (Complexity)

Decision Quality (Goodness)
37

THE SIMPLICITY CYCLE

By now, I’m sure some of you have figured out that the upper right quadrant of the xy chart is unreachable. An extremely high level of complexity and an optimized degree of goodness are simply not compatible. Some others undoubtedly disagree with that assertion. A system, process, design, or discipline that seems to be in this no-man’s land probably resides in the Region of the Complex (the center of the chart), and has the potential to increase its goodness only by decreasing its complexity. Remember, there’s nothing wrong with being in the middle of this chart, as long as we don’t mistake it for the upper right corner.

38

Complexity

Goodness
39

THE SIMPLICITY CYCLE

Since we can’t keep going up and to the right, and don’t want to go up and to the left, there’s just one option left. The ideal path out of The Region of the Complex is down and to the right, in the direction of increased goodness and decreased complexity. It’s the Simplification Slope. Keep in mind, increasing and decreasing complexity is just a means to an end. Simplicity isn’t the point, and neither is complexity. Increasing goodness is the actual objective. Here’s the tricky part: in order to begin moving along this slope we need to learn some new tools … and forget some old ones. In place of learning and genesis, which served us well along the complexity slope, we must now master a toolset that includes things like unlearning and synthesis.

40

Complexity

Simplification Slope

Goodness
41

THE SIMPLICITY CYCLE

At this point in the journey, the necessary tasks do not involve creation of new elements, but rather the integration of existing elements or even the removal of some. Positive progress along the Goodness axis now requires the abandonment of certain behaviors, design principles, and activities that brought about the current level of goodness, because they have become counterproductive. The idea is to prune and pare down the design, reducing it to the essential components, each of which is able to freely operate with minimal friction and maximum contribution. The Theory of Inventive Problem Solving (aka TRIZ) talks about a concept called “trimming,” where the designer arbitrarily removes a part and explores ways for the system to perform the part’s function with only the remaining parts. That’s the sort of thing we’ll need to do to move along the simplification slope. As software guru Eric Raymond explains in The Cathedral And The Bazaar:

“Perfection [in design] is achieved not when there is nothing more to add, but rather when there is nothing more to take away.”
42

Making the simple complicated is commonplace; making the complicated simple, awesomely simple, that’s creativity. - Charles Mingus

43

THE SIMPLICITY CYCLE

One of the laws identified in TRIZ is the Law of Ideality. This law states that as systems mature, they tend to become more reliable, simpler, and more effective—more ideal. In the language of the Simplicity Cycle, this move towards ideality is an increase in goodness and a decrease in complexity. It’s a path down and to the right. It’s the simplification slope. The Law of Ideality goes on to explain that the amount of complexity in a system is a measure of how far away it is from its ideal state. In fact, upon reaching perfect ideality, the mechanism itself no longer exists. Only the function remains. Sort of like doing away with a can opener, and using a pop-top instead. When the mechanism no longer exists, it has no parts. No parts, no complexity. Just pure, simple function. Zero complexity, optimal goodness. I get all Zen just thinking about it.

44

Mechanism
45

THE SIMPLICITY CYCLE

In any context, the result of this simplification is an elegant, graceful, streamlined solution. These are found in the bottom right quadrant of our graph, the Region of the Simple. Here we fit our squares together to form a three-dimensional cube. A single cube is less complex than a collection of squares (it is one object, not six). It is also “more good,” because you can do more with a 3-D object than a 2-D object. This is the target most artists, teachers, students, writers and system designers are aiming for. However, the simplicity in this region is built upon an essential foundation of earlier complexity. We can’t just jump from simplistic to simple, skipping the complex entirely. The initial increase in complexity is as crucial to maximizing goodness as the later decrease in complexity. Edward DeBono puts it this way, “Sometimes a system starts off simple and then becomes more complex and then becomes simple again. This can be a normal process of evolution and adaptation to change. If the ‘complex’ phase is disallowed, then that system may be unable to evolve or adapt.” Einstein’s famous E=mc2 equation is an example of life in this area. There is tremendous complexity behind it, but the equation itself is at once profound and breathtakingly simple.

46

Complexity

Simple

Goodness
47

THE SIMPLICITY CYCLE

There is an old Zen koan that poses the following question: “How do you proceed from the top of a 100-foot pole?” That is the question we ask upon reaching the Simplicity Region. Sure, it looks like we’ve arrived, but in reality, the journey is not over yet, for more than one reason. The optimal path out of this region involves yet another trajectory change, and we find ourselves traveling along a slope that runs parallel to the earlier complexity slope. It is time again for complexity and goodness to both increase. As with the previous vector changes, the activities we use now are the opposites of the activities that moved us along the previous slope. We are back to genesis, rather than synthesis. Back to learning, rather than unlearning. And then we’ll hit another critical mass of complexity and do another vector shift. We might picture a sine wave leaving the region of the simple and extending out to the right. Where does it stop? I’m not sure it ever does.

48

Optimal Path Through Time
Complexity Complexity

Goodness
49

THE SIMPLICITY CYCLE

The irresistible force will always beat the immovable object, because the latter doesn’t exist. Nothing is static. Everything moves. And so it is with the Region of the Simple. Nothing stays in the bottom right quadrant forever, because the irresistible arrow of time exerts pressure to the left, in the direction of decreased goodness. We have all seen yesterday’s breakthrough become today’s commodity. In the field of consumer electronics, the time arrow is a large force indeed, but even in relatively stable fields like mathematics or physics, time degrades goodness. It may take centuries, but eventually an Einstein comes along and, with a new insight, technique or discovery, decreases the apparently unshakable goodness of good old Newton. And that’s a good thing. It would be pretty boring if goodness never decreased and there was never a need or an opportunity to set out on a new journey, requiring us once again to increase complexity as a means to increase goodness. It would be terrible if there was nothing left to learn or to create. Yes, the time arrow will always be there, pushing in the direction of decreased goodness. We feel the effects most when we try to stand still.

50

Complexity

Today’s Commodity

TIME

Yesterday’s Breakthrough

Goodness
51

THE SIMPLICITY CYCLE

Complexity

Newton’s Laws, c 1905

Einstein

Newton’s Laws, c 1687

Goodness
52

Effects Of Time
Complexity

Goodness
53

THE SIMPLICITY CYCLE

As we already mentioned, moving along the complexity slope is important. This is where learning occurs, where we gain tools, skills and techniques. Designs begin to take shape, and abilities are honed. That’s why goodness increases. We’ve already seen that we don’t want to do too much of this, because it eventually has a negative affect on goodness. However, it is also possible to do too little of it. If we begin simplifying before reaching complexity’s critical mass, we risk encountering what software programmers call premature optimization, and the end result has much less goodness than it might have. It’s synthesis with several key pieces missing. Patience and diligence are keys to avoiding premature optimization. First, we need to gain the tools and talents we need, and only then can we apply them in the appropriate degree. Forced simplicity is just as bad as excessive complexity. The complexity slope is about preparing the designer as much as the design – or maybe more so. The simplification slope, the other side of the mountain, is more about changing the design itself.

54

Premature Optimization
Complexity

Goodness
55

THE SIMPLICITY CYCLE

Understanding the concepts behind the Simplicity Cycle is one thing. Being able to use it as a guide is something else, and people often ask “How can I tell where I am?” Well, if you’re starting out, you’re in the bottom left of the chart, and you’ll probably know it. Similarly, when you arrive at the region of the Simple (bottom right), you’ll be able to tell. So, all that’s left is to determine where in the central cloud we are. However, it turns out that’s not really the right question. Your specific location on the chart at any given moment in time is less important than your trajectory. Here’s what we should be asking: Is goodness increasing or decreasing? Rather than “Where am I?” we should focus on “Where am I going?”

56

Complexity

Where Am I?

Starting

You’ll know

Goodness
57

THE SIMPLICITY CYCLE

Having said that, if there is one point we should strive to identify, it’s the “peak of complexity,” the point of critical mass, where any additional increases in complexity cause a decrease in goodness. How can we determine when we hit that spot? The short answer is – we can’t, at least not with any degree of certainty. The slightly longer answer is that experience, intuition, the insight of others, and hindsight are really the best ways to make this assessment. The good news is, that’s alright. Remember, we are primarily talking about design, and that can be a fairly subjective topic. My previous comments about premature optimization not withstanding, there is not necessarily “one” critical mass point you should aim for. It’s more of a region than a point, and as I mentioned on the previous page, your vector matters a lot more than your position. The point of this cycle is not to provide an absolute roadmap, where we can plot out our design project and make everything very predictable and linear. The point is simply to encourage an appreciation for the value of complexity, in it’s time, and the value of simplicity, in it’s time… and to point out that complexity and goodness are not always directly proportional… but sometimes they are directly proportional… and time itself is a factor.

58

Complexity

Peak of Complexity?

Goodness
59

THE SIMPLICITY CYCLE

Paul Graham is a programming language designer and the creator of the first web-based application. He’s got a PhD in Computer Science from Harvard, and has also studied painting at RISD and the Accademia Di Belle Arti in Florence. The guy knows something about design. He wrote: Good design is simple. Good design is hard. Good design looks easy. Good design is redesign. The Neil Mix blog made a similar point about what good design looks like. He calls it the Elegance Paradox, and if we define elegance as “goodness plus simplicity,” it helps shed some light on the design journey: “The design process is about whittling away distractions, making the obscure feel obvious, making the obvious feel implicit, and doing it without anyone noticing. To the untrained eye, your best work looks like you’ve done no work at all. If you’ve done a stellar job, then your design will feel utterly obvious. “The Elegance Paradox is this: to create elegance requires entirely inelegant preparation, but nobody should be able to see that.”5
5

http://www.neilmix.com/2007/05/10/the-paradox-of-elegance/

60

Complexity

Inelegant Preparation

Goodness

61

THE SIMPLICITY CYCLE

One more point: we don’t always know what we’re aiming for when we begin the design journey. So, the first step is to define the target (and then to redefine it, as Paul Graham pointed out).

Once we’ve got an objective in mind, we can actively seek it.

miss.

The decisions we make about complexity will determine whether we hit or

62

The Target

Miss

Complexity

Seek

Define Hit

Goodness
63

THE SIMPLICITY CYCLE

The remainder of this book is full of sample curves and paths through the Complexity / Goodness playing field. These examples show some of the variety possible as we take our own journeys of design.

After the curves, there is a collection of examples, which offer everything from snapshots in time to comparisons of various products.

Yes, there is more that could be said, but in the interest of simplicity, I’ll refrain. A picture is worth a thousand words, so the following can speak for themselves.

64

CURVES

65

THE SIMPLICITY CYCLE

Course Correction

Complexity

Goodness

66

Over Correction

Complexity

Goodness
67

THE SIMPLICITY CYCLE

Loopy

Complexity

Goodness

68

Wandering

Complexity

Goodness

69

THE SIMPLICITY CYCLE

Lucky / Optimal

Complexity

Goodness

70

Complacency
Complexity

Goodness
71

THE SIMPLICITY CYCLE

Bureaucratization (Best Case)

Complexity

Goodness
72

Bureaucratization (Best Case Magnified)

Complexity

Goodness
73

THE SIMPLICITY CYCLE

Kaizen Pyramid
Complexity

Goodness
74

Getting Lost

Complexity

Goodness
75

THE SIMPLICITY CYCLE

Optimal Range
Complexity

Goodness
76

EXAMPLES

77

THE SIMPLICITY CYCLE

Complexity

Journeyman

Apprentice

Master

Goodness

78

Foolishness

Complexity

Knowledge

Ignorance

Wisdom

Goodness

79

THE SIMPLICITY CYCLE

Space Shuttle

Complexity

SpaceShip1

Goodness
80

Complexity

Y = mX + b

1+1=2

E = mc2

Goodness
81

THE SIMPLICITY CYCLE

Complexity

Library

Google

Goodness
82

Complexity

Model T

VW Bus

Goodness
83

THE SIMPLICITY CYCLE

Trying Too Hard
Complexity

In The Zone

Goodness
84

Complexity

Practice

Perfect

Goodness
85

THE SIMPLICITY CYCLE

Complexity

US Tax Code

Flat Tax?

Goodness
86

Complexity

Invention

Innovation

Goodness
87

THE SIMPLICITY CYCLE

Tired

Complexity

Sleep on it?

Well Rested

Goodness
88

Complexity

iPod 1.0 Oct 2003

iPod 1.0 Oct 2001

Goodness
89

THE SIMPLICITY CYCLE

Epic
Complexity

Tempting?
Sonnet

Haiku

Goodness

90

Bad Poetry

Poetry
Complexity

Most Poetry?

Great Poetry

Goodness
91

THE SIMPLICITY CYCLE

Complexity

Simple Thinking

Simple Thinking

Goodness
92

Complexity

Already thought of that
Goodness

Wish I’d thought of that

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THE SIMPLICITY CYCLE

Scratch head

Complexity

Wrinkle brow

Slap forehead

Goodness
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Over-

Complexity

Engineered

Highly -

Goodness

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Complexity

Breaking Eggs

Making Omelets

Goodness
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Complexity

Facts & Details

Metaphors

Goodness
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The Back Of The Book
Where I define some terms, recommend some books, share some final thoughts, and thank some people.

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TERMS Complexity – Consisting of interrelated parts. Simplicity – A state of low complexity. Goodness – A measure of value, maturity, completeness or utility. A Lot – A context-dependent term, indicating an unnecessarily large quantity. Effort – A measure of the amount of energy or resources required to achieve a desired outcome. Designer – The artist, student, builder, designer, etc. The person involved. Piece – An element, component, function, principle or sub-mechanism. Graphically represented as a square. Design – The blueprint for the object created by the designer. Object – The item being designed. Could also be an academic discipline being learned, a piece of art being created, etc. Also called the Target.

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Complexity Slope – vs – Simplicity Slope Checklist Is complexity increasing Am I adding new ideas, functions disciplines, capabilities, components? Am I mastering new techniques, tools and skills? Am I researching? Am I gathering material? Are things progressing predictably? Is it familiar? or decreasing? or removing and streamlining them? or picking specific ones from a stable of existing ones? or synthesizing knowledge? or assembling it? or surprisingly? or unknown?

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Non-Integrated Thoughts From The Complexity Slope And Odd Bits & Pieces To Consider I love the Deleted Scenes and other Extras on DVD’s these days. There’s usually a good reason the scenes were cut, but often there’s a gem or two in there, and I almost always watch. In that spirit, here are a few questions, observations and quotations which didn’t make it in to the main body of the book. These bits were trimmed for a variety of reasons, but you might find some of them worthwhile. What are we talking about? The experience or the system, the process or the product, the user’s experience or the secret happenings inside the black box? Or are we talking about both? Does it matter? Is there a difference? Is it enough to simply relocate complexity from the user’s side to the system’s side? Is simplicity a perception or a reality? Sometimes, apparent complexity does not reflect high internal simplicity. Is there such a thing as unperceived simplicity (like the old “if a tree falls in the forest…” question). How about unperceived complexity? If something looks, feels, acts simple, is it? Someone said a product can be simple only for a specific user. Something you find simple might be complex for me, because of our different experiences, abilities, etc. I think that is probably true.
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Mere simplicity, defined as a state of low complexity, is seldom adequate for the academic, systemic, operational, artistic, and organizational activities we pursue each day. And yet simplicity in speech, in design, in understanding, and in operations is essential to optimal performance. This is no paradox, once we are able to see the distinctions between simplisticness and simplicity and the ways both relate to complexity and complicatedness. Journeys of design, learning, creation or expression, like any journey of discovery, involves both genesis and synthesis, learning and unlearning. True mastery comes from discovering “the simplicity on the other side of complexity” and then understanding that continual forward progress requires complexity to increase once again. Complexity can be viewed as a branch of mathematics. Simplicity can be viewed as a branch of philosophy or aesthetics.6 In 1300, Dante Alighieri wrote “All that is superfluous displeases God and nature. All that displeases God and nature is evil.” Is there a moral dimension to the Simplicity Slope? Is it evil to be in the region of the Complex? “Isn’t it fun to add things? Don’t we engineers love to design something, to add to something, to control something? In hundreds of TRIZ workshops using
6

http://library.thinkquest.org/12170/theory/simcomp.html

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simple introductory problems, when a group of engineers is asked to create a solution to a problem, 99% of the time they invariably ADD something to the system to fix the problem.” How Do You Turn On The #@!&% Air?” (Business Week, June 19, 2006) Out of intense complexities, intense simplicities emerge. - Winston Churchill “An expert is someone who has succeeded in making decisions and judgements simpler through knowing what to pay attention to and what to ignore." - Edward DeBono, Simplicity. On the other side of the coin, de Bono has some harsh words for people who try to establish themselves as experts by making things more complex and more difficult to understand. Keep this in mind when dealing with "experts."

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For Further Reading The Laws of Simplicity, John Maeda Simplicity, Edward de Bono The Fifth Discipline, Peter Senge Simplicity – The New Competitive Advantage, Bill Jensen A Whole New Mind, Dan Pink Ambient Findability, Peter Morville www.PresentationZen.com www.JoelOnSoftware.com Trevor Gay’s Blog: http://simplicityitk.blogspot.com Cliff Crego’s Poetry: http://picture-poems.com/week4/complexity.html Or just google “simplicity complexity” and see what you find…

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Thanks to: Dr. Joel Sercel, for helping me understand complexity and efficiency, and for not letting me get away with anything. Dan Pink, for suggesting it could be a book. Dr. Dave Barrett and the Olin College Class of 2007, for receiving the Simplicity Cycle so enthusiastically. Don Norman, of the Nielsen Norman Group, for the generous words which appear on the back cover. Lieutenant Commander Jenny Soto, where ever you are, for stimulating the idea in the first place. Gabe Mounce and Chris Quaid, for just being awesome. Judith Greig, for publishing the very first version. The nice people at ChangeThis.com, for publishing the second version. Trevor Gay, for championing simplicity and reviewing early drafts of this book. And of course, my beautiful wife Kim.

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About The Author Dan Ward is a punk rocking electrical engineer who writes children’s stories and fairy tales, a radical military officer who juggles flaming torches, a published poet, a performing magician and a self-taught fire eater. He is a charter member of the Precarious and Impulsive Fellowship of Liveliness, and served as Editor-In-Chief of Rogue Project Leader.com, a more than slightly subversive online program management journal (now on hiatus) he founded with a couple friends. He is a regular contributor to Defense Acquisition University’s flagship journal Defense AT&L, and his articles have also appeared in Harpers and Gilbert. His books include The Radical Elements of Radical Success, a non-fiction book about life, and a series of kid’s novels. You can find his books at Rogue Press (www.lulu.com/RoguePress) and Silly Hat Press (www.lulu.com/SillyHat).

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