Up with Complexity!

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A 20-minute lightning talk presented at IxDA Interaction 11 on Feb 12, 2011. The tried-and-true "Don't Make Me Think" principle doesn't always hold. Discover how carefully placed friction in an interface can actually improve user experience by encouraging people to slow down and think. Complexity itself isn’t bad; the trick is making complexity seem uncomplicated. Explore examples of websites and mobile apps that incorporate friction without frustration, with elegantly simple interfaces that nevertheless deploy complex interactions to involve users, prevent errors, improve data collection, and create more immersive experiences.

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  • This was one of my favorite talks at IxDA11 - thanks for sharing it!
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  • Yay! Slideshare re-processed the deck, and the speaker notes are now showing up. To see an outline of what I said with each slide, click the 'Speaker notes' tab just below the presentation and above the comments. The speaker notes are also part of the Keynote deck, which you can download by clicking the 'Download' button above the slideshow.

    Thanks!
    Josh
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  • I presented this talk at IxDA Interaction 11 conference on Feb 12, 2011. Enjoy!

    The slides don't include much text, so I included an outline of the talking points in the presenter notes. As often happens on Slideshare, it seems that the presenter notes didn't make their way onto site. Working to get that fixed. When it is, you should be able to see the speaker notes in the 'Notes' tab above this comment area.

    Until then, you can also download the Keynote file by clicking the Download link above the slideshow.

    Thanks!
    Josh
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  • “Make Me Think” might’ve been good title for this.
    I don’t question the principles of Don’t Make Me Think.
    Valuing effortless, intuitive experiences, interfaces you don’t have to puzzle over.
    That’s the core of what we do.

    But of course we also WANT people to think...
    Not about our interfaces, but about the content they’re meant to feature.
    Emotional, intellectual, creative engagement requires sophistication and complexity.
  • Complexity is not a dirty word. It’s what gives our life texture,
    As designers, we can’t help people tackle tough tasks or challenging info
    without also embracing complexity in our designs.
    Our job as designers is NOT to eliminate complexity... but to make it uncomplicated.

    Complexity and complication are not the same things.

    Complexity can exist in harmony with interfaces that *feel* simple, *feel* effortless.
    That’s the holy grail: complex information in VERY simple interfaces.
  • The Wenger Giant holds the Guinness world record: most multifunctional pen knife.
    87 tools, 141 functions. $1400.
    Clearly ridiculous but intentionally so.
    100th anniversary: include every gadget ever included.
    Fun bit of humor and whimsy—from the Swiss!

    Heavy physical load, heavy cognitive load
    87 tools, just finding the one you want is a challenge.

    In a mobile interface, which this certainly is...
    Clarity should trump density, less is more
    Or as Milton Glaser put it...
  • This goes for thinking about any project really,
    but especially complex interactions, complex visualization.

    Ask yourself:
    What is the minimum I need to give my audience
    to accomplish whatever it is they need to be awesome,
    to accomplish the task at hand?

    You rarely need to have the most features to be best.

  • If you were building an app to fly an airplane, you might start with this.
  • When what your users might really want is this.

    If you know your audience doesn’t need or care about the details
    of how to fly a plane, cut it.
    That’s the right thing to do.

    But you have to be careful not to patronize or condescend.
    Make sure you understand users’ goals and wishes.
    What are they trying to accomplish, what do they want to know?

    And then:
    How do you get them there as quickly as possible?

    Especially important in mobile where people
    are often in a distracted environment, can spare little attention.
    Help them get there.
  • Umbrella: The Simplest Weather Forecast
    “Will I need an umbrella today?”
    This is all I want from the weather.

    But for some people, maybe most, a picture of an umbrella won’t cut it.
    Weather is hugely complex, and some want to be exposed to all its complexity.

    For him, papering over that complexity is a fail.
    Managing complexity doesn’t always or even usually
    mean stripping out features until the project is toothless.
    I’ll return to a richer weather example in a moment.

    But for now...
    People don’t want dumbed-down applications.
    They simply want uncomplicated.
    You can get into trouble if you chop too much.
  • So, Facebook.
    Released the first day the App Store opened.
    So nobody really knew what iPhone users might expect of third-party apps.

    Joe Hewitt, dev, made reasonable guess:
    Thought people wanted companion app to desktop web.
    Simple, lite version of FB that let you do a few common things,
    post a quick status, check what other people were posting.

    Dead wrong. People hated it.
    Mobile or not, FB’s audience had come to expect
    minimum suite of features.
    Without that minimum threshold, it just wasn’t FB.

    But how do you cram all of FB’s complexity into a tiny screen without overwhelming.
  • You help people focus on a sliver at a time.
    That’s particularly important in mobile: address the immediate need,
    don’t distract with anything else.

    In revising the FB app,
    Joe made an important conceptual leap:
    Recognized that FB itself is a platform, consisting of apps:
    news feed, messages, chat, photo gallery, etc.
  • So he treated the app like its own OS.
    Solved the complexity problem by creating “sub-apps,”
    aping the iPhone’s own Home screen springboard grid.

    Choose a sub-app to drill into a very focused experience,
    narrowly tailored to the task at hand. In fact, easier to
    use this mobile app than the full website.

    (Not uncommon in mobile apps,
    where resolving complexity is more pressing,
    often tighter solutions.)

    Give people just what they need in the moment.
    Sweep the rest aside til later.
  • Momento: Great micro-journal, record moments of the day.
    Can attach things to your moment with icons on screen,
    but doesn’t leave much room for the main event, the content.
    Common problem for Twitter apps.

    Typically, the more features you offer, the more controls you’re saddled with.
    How do you avoid becoming that giant swiss army knife?
  • Tweetie, now the official Twitter app, solved this.
    Put secondary tools and features behind a secret panel.
    Tap the character count button to slide away the keyboard, reveal those add-ons.
  • Manage complexity by optimizing each screen for the primary task.
    Sweep secondary tools and controls
    behind hidden doors and secret panels.

    But not about secrets.
    It’s about giving information and tools only when asked.
  • Think about how we transmit info to one another.
    Typically not the case where you have one person
    droning on and on, dumping dense information on you.

    Usually, you tell me something, I’m intrigued.
    I ask a question, you answer, I ask another.
    Think of your own interfaces as conversations.
    Information on demand. Just-in-time interface.
  • Accuweather.com
    Weather: Dense info for the current moment

    Nice start:
    But how to provide all of the day’s detailed info?

  • Swipe at the current conditions to move into future.
    Ask the app about 10am by touching 10am.
    s the interface.cause it’s important...
  • Only when I ask for that info does it give it to me.
    Question, answer. Ask, receive.
    Requires more taps than just dumping all the data on you directly.
    But each screen more digestible.

    Again: clarity trumps density.

    The web has given us a squeamishness about extra clicks.
    Because every link eats time, thanks to network latency.
    But in apps where there’s no latency, smaller concern.
    In mobile, I believe tap quality far important than tap quantity.
    As long as each tap delivers satisfaction
    (a completed task, useful information, delight),
    extra taps are ok.
    Again, it invites conversation, give and take.

    But perhaps more important:
    YOU’RE USING THE CONTENT AS THE CONTROLS
    This is the real revolution that touch screens are working.
    Touch will sweep away decades of buttons and folders and tabs and administrative debris to work directly with the content a
  • In the real world AND in software, buttons are abstractions.
    They work at a distance on the primary object.
    They’re often necessary, best available solution
    —light switches for example — but they’re a workaround.
    They operate at a distance.
    They add a middle man, an extra layer of complication.

    Touch is changing the way regular folks think about our interfaces.
    It helps us manage complexity by getting rid of visual abstractions
    to work with content directly.

    Marshall McLuhan said the medium is the message.
    I’m happy to say, at long last: the message is the medium.

    You can cut through complexity by creating the illusion of an unmediated relationship with the information, with the content.

    The iPad is giving many of us the opportunity to experiment here.
    Lots of us really still learning how to make this work.
    Which means we see a lot of misfires, too.
    Not to pick on anyone, or anything, but...
  • ABC News app pastes latest videos onto a globe
    like some kind of new-media feat of papier-mâché.
    And it’s a nifty little graphics feat.

    Spin to browse, click to watch.
    But the interface doesn’t inform or enlighten.
    It does not organize the clips in any meaningful way.
    It actually keeps you from the content, hiding and distorting it with this gimmick.

    By obscuring content, adds complication, instead of managing complexity.
    The interface upstages the content, such as it is.
    Friendly-seeming whiz-bang graphics don’t help us digest complex information.
    Or in this case even inane information.

    Planet of news isn’t the first planetary interface gimmick to fall short.
  • Model of the solar system from around 1800.

    Edward Tufte: Sin of pridefully obvious presentation
    more attention to contraption than to content it aims to present.
    The inner show-off of the designer.

    As technologists, we often lose sight of this:
    *content* should define app,
    not its machinery, not its technology.

    That doesn’t mean that we can’t deploy awesome graphics and media.
    In fact, done right, explains complex concepts and data
    Let’s keep with the planetary theme.
  • Solar Walk a more successful version.
    You’re just exploring content, zooming through the solar system.
    Like the ABC news globe, it’s a spiffy 3d experience.
    But it serves a purpose to underscore distance and time.
    Complex topics that are effortlessly explained by putting you in the middle of it.

    Only a very little bit of chrome on right to help you speed or slow time.
    Otherwise, app is all content, very little artifice or interface.
    The message is the medium.

  • Exploration is what we’re talking about here.
    Drawing people in,
    engaging them in these rich worlds we’ve prepared for them.

    Too often we think only in terms of tasks and efficiency.
    That’s especially true for mobile.
    Even there, it’s a mistake to go all-in for efficiency.

    I believe the use of mobile apps and websites boils down to three mindsets.
  • Microtasking: This IS about efficiency.
    You’re using an app for quick dashes, for sprints of activity to get something done on the go. Activities wedged between the demands of real life.

    I’m local. What’s near me, around me, right in front of me? Also rather urgent, quick interactions.

    Finally: I’m bored. Entertain me. And this is the one I want to focus on.

    Because it brings me, of course, inexorably...
    to fart-sound apps.
  • This may not seem relevant to complexity, but bear with me.

    More and more, people turn to apps for entertainment,
    often just to make them laugh when bored.
    Boredom floats industry of moron tests & fart-sound apps
    We’ve had toilet humor since Chaucer, that’s nothing new.
    What is new is it now supports a full-fledged software genre

    It’s easy to dismiss this. Apple’s App Store guidelines: “we have 300,000 apps. We don’t need more fart apps.”

    But here’s why it’s important: Regular folks now view software as content, as entertainment, as distraction.
    That’s new. Until now, most people treated software as a tool, a utility, a gray thing you use to get work done.
    Apps are personal accessories as much the phone itself.
    Subtle but important shift: software as content, not utility.

    What does that have to do with complexity?
    When people are bored, they’re not looking for fart sounds per se, they’re looking for escape.
    Whether video game, twitter feed, news app, ebook: exploration.
    Lose yourself in another world. Exploration is the killer app.

    Means people are more open to complex experiences, even in a mobile context.
  • More workaday apps can meet this need, too.
    Here RunKeeper (running/exercise journal)
    and Lose It (calorie counter)
    Personal stats as video game

    Productivity apps great at providing exploration,
    especially apps that collect personal data.
    Where you’ve been, where going
    Explore our own personal history, video game for narcissists.

    For those of you developing mobile:
    It’s not all about efficiency, about micro-tasking, about bending to short attention spans.

    It’s also about allowing and ENCOURAGING people to slow down.
    To create opportunities for leisurely craws through a world of data.
    Find the story in your data. Give people a path to follow.
    Optimize for quick sprints, sure, but also provide something to explore
    That’s your boredom buster.
  • There’s also another way you can slow people down.
    By actually throwing a curve into the interface to make your audience pause,
    interrupt their rhythm
    —to borrow the phrase from Peter Stahl’s great talk the other day.

    In other words, intentional complication.
    There are times you need to make people sit up and pay attention.
    That means leaving some hard edges on your interface that people have to navigate.

  • Several years back, had good fortune to talk to Josh Schacter,
    creator of Delicious, just before the site was acquired by Yahoo.

    He explained that he was under lots of pressure from users
    to automate the tagging system. To strongly suggest tags
    or even auto-populate the tags for people’s bookmarks. And he resisted.

    He said, “if the software does it, it won’t be as useful. I want people to have to think about their tags. To stop and think about what this page, this link, this bookmark, stands for to them.”

    If it’s in the service of the content, or in the user’s best interest, it’s a good thing to apply friction. Make it slightly more difficult so that people have to wake up and think.
  • This is also the principle behind what I call gesture jiujitsu,
    self defense through challenging or awkward touchscreen gestures.

    The problem:
    Ease/sensitivity of touchscreen can work against you.
    Buttons get pushed when don’t intend it.
    Surprise calls from handbags and back pockets.
    Carelessly delete data by tapping wrong item.

    Awkward or challenging gestures can protect against mistaps.
  • Get a taste of this very first time you use iPhone.
    “Slide to unlock” control greets you.
    A wee bit of ergonomic complication.
    Just enough concentration and precision

    “Slide to power off” and “slide to answer”

    Ensures it’s you doing the work, not phone rattling around in bag.
  • The iPhone uses the same gesture to make accidental deletion unlikely.
    Swipe to bring up the delete button.
    Swipe and tap JUST challenging enough.
    You won’t do it by accident, but still intuitive.

    This also happens to be a shortcut for three taps.
    In iPhone, you can also delete by tap [show] here, here, here.

    That careful series of taps also an effective defense
    It’s like loading a door with locks.
    But a door loaded with locks is also a headache in a hurry.
    Complex sequences are annoying in repetition.
    Use these combination locks sparingly, for rare actions
    Or provide a shortcut, like the swipe.

    But these sequences are more effective than confirmation screens to which we develop an immunity. Too easy to dismiss, too annoying to heed.

    Gesture jiujitsu is an alternative for coaxing a moment of concentration, intention, thought.

    Think hard about ways you can make USERS think hard when they need to.
  • Extra taps is a time-honored tradition in software protection.
    Confirmation screens: “Are you really sure you want to do that?”

    Nagging approach rarely effective,
    Annoys more than helps
    We develop an immunity, sail through without thinking.
    Too easy to dismiss, too annoying to heed.

    Underlying idea is sound:
    Work harder to do something you might regret later.
    Gesture jiujitsu can do just as well without annoyance.
  • Speaking of thinking hard...
    My friends have a six-year old, Nina.
    Plan to trap her grandmother in cage.

    Nina knows: Complex schemes take lots of forethought.

    Simple is hard, and effortless takes lots of work.
    Spend time working out your awesome complexity on paper.
    Understand that you won’t get it right the first time.
    Don’t let that make you give up on expressing complex ideas.
    Keep coming back until you find the way to make the complex uncomplicated.

    Make ‘em think.

  • Up with Complexity!

    1. 1. Up with Complexity! Josh Clark @globalmoxie www.globalmoxie.com
    2. 2. Up with Complexity! Josh Clark @globalmoxie www.globalmoxie.com
    3. 3. Complexity rocks.
    4. 4. Just enough is more.
    5. 5. Manage complexity through focus.
    6. 6. Manage complexity through conversation.
    7. 7. Buttons are a hack.
    8. 8. Manage complexity through exploration
    9. 9. ✓ I’m micro-tasking ✓ I’m local ✓ I’m bored
    10. 10. Create friction.
    11. 11. http://speakerrate.com/t/5399 @globalmoxie www.globalmoxie.com

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