Cost of Simplicity

You probably have a friend, we all do, or it might even be yourself who installed an app, tried to use it but just couldn’t “get” it. It required a lot of effort to find the value. It just wasn’t simple.

If you want to become a rocket scientist, there is a certain amount of knowledge you will need to acquire in order to understand the field. This takes time and effort. The same goes with an app you are trying to use, although hopefully less tricky than rocket science. You also need to gain an understanding of the data and information being communicated to you. When a company wants to create a particular experience (their intention) for you, it is “communicated” through the apps’s use of UI, colours, text, symbols and information architecture.

Cost of Understanding

In “Figure it out“, the authors Stephen P. Anderson and Karl Fast talk about how information needs to be understood in relation to people and their needs (“…designer Richard Saul Wurman in the late 1980’s… information that failed to inform was merely data…”) and this process of making something understandable has a cost. This cost could be time and effort or learning new skills and developing better skills on the side of the sender or receiver. This cost of effort, from an UX perspective, should ideally be on the sender’s side.Cost of Simplicity

This “cost of understanding” I found very useful as an analogy when it comes to simplicity, as “understanding” very much relates to “simplicity”. The simpler something is for the user (receiver), the easier it is to understand. But, if understanding has a cost, where does it go if you need to make it easier for a user?

The “cost of understanding” is the total cost of the “knowledge” transfer moving from one person or app to another person. What you have to figure out is, who is “paying” for it. Simplicity is the science and sometimes art of shifting the balance of that effort towards the communicator, business or app.

Shifting the Cost of Simplicity

If you don’t make the effort to “simplify” it, the cost of the understanding sits with the user. They have to make the effort in understanding what you are trying to communicate. If you put in the additional effort of creating for example: automating tasks, providing predictable options, auto-completing forms you already have information on, you take some of that cost away from the user. If your business takes on the cost of simplicity, you will not only have taken on the challenge of building for humans, but also give your product to test its viability as soon as possible. There is nothing worse than having to give up on a good valuable idea, because people didn’t “get” it.   

And that is what simplicity is in UX; going the extra mile, so that users don’t have to.