Friday, January 27, 2017

Any intelligent fool can invent further complications, but it takes a genius to retain, or recapture, simplicity. (E.F. Schumacher)

At work, most people tend to get rewarded for mastering the complex. Think of some internal system that only Joe knows how to use, some bureaucratic process that only Cheryl can understand, some hardware that only Trey can fix. Honestly, I’m pretty sure it’s behind why lawyers, accountants, and engineers all make the big bucks.

Unfortunately, for us UX types, it’s just not enough. Sure, the developers can get away with mastering C++; the lawyers with Reg this and Reg that; and project management with some unwieldy, macro-infested, homegrown spreadsheet horror. For us, though, we typically have to take all that complexity and turn it into something that our users can deal with and make sense of.

Thus, we often act as translators. So, not only do we need to learn that difficult source language of technology and bureaucracy and regulation, but we also have to translate all that into the target language of our users. 

Our effort is two-fold. First, we need to master the complex. Then, we need to turn that complexity into simplicity. 

Over the years, I’ve noticed that some UXers are great with that first part, but not with the second. To me, they’ve always seemed like frustrated techies (wolves in sheep’s clothing, if you will). Subsequently, their designs can often be great for themselves – and other techies – but maybe not so much for everybody else.

On the other hand, it’s hard to be a graphic designer without mastering PhotoShop, or an IA without being an Axure wizard, or a writer without knowing your content management system inside and out. What happens when you don’t?  Well, you might very well come up with user-friendly solutions, but you might also have a hard time translating those solutions into something workable. Heck, you might not even be able to fully grasp the complexity of the problem you’re trying to solve from the get-go, leaving out important pieces and ultimately making your solution harder, not easier, to use.

Face it, UX is one of those both-sides-of-the-brain disciplines. If your brain is structured that way, you’ll get a major kick out of both understanding the complex and then turning that it into something simple. If not, though, I can guarantee that at least one side of that equation is going to bug the heck out of ya.

E.F. Schumacher was an economist and statistician, 
but was also the author of Small Is Beautiful

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