Does complexity sells better?

“Simplicity is a great virtue but it requires hard work to achieve it and education to appreciate it. And to make matters worse: complexity sells better.” ― Edsger Wybe Dijkstra

I always wondered about these words: Complexity sells better! Is that really true? I guess this is what our perception tells us to believe, and I think this is what, after being indoctrinated and “educated” through this modus vivendi, we may answer, yes, complexity sells better.

In reference to Ulf-L Andersson’s definition of Humanware in his book “Humanware– practical usability engineering “, there is a statement that I think is worth reading: “Humanware is everything which helps human beings to handle (use and look after) a product, e.g. controls and indicators, program ergonomic, location of assembly divisions in parts to be put together, signs and other markings, instructions, training and technical consultation.…The human factor” must be taken into consideration in design work, rather than being blamed when things go wrong.

How many times when I called customer’s service I felt somehow guilty (not too much but yet guilty), this feeling grew stronger when the representative used to say “Oh! And what did you do to the device?” Ouch more guilt! The problem was not what I did to the device, simply the owner’s manual said differently than what was on that device to make it work! And then there was the incredible discussion between a technical literate person and the caller for support…

Did you ever looked at the back panel of your sound system device? How far did your comprehension of “what to connect this with that “go? (Of course since they came up with the colour codes!), the biggest challenge – at least for me – was when purchasing some electronic device such as an amplifier to successfully connect the peripherals, the speakers and DVD/Blue ray components! The “in/out” plugs, the white yellow, red and black… well it was inevitable to read the literature more than once, follow by the letter and eventually check on the internet before spending long minutes calling technical support while listening to some kind of music that got to people’s nerves!

00 complexity
Image Credits: Operations Research at Work

Shifting to another topic, let’s talk about the experts who drown us on public networks with their flow of terms, words, visions and above all their definitions about work, jobs and last but not least education! Ah Education! Well if education is by definition what it is, then why do the experts use such complex words (should we rather say complicated?).

Why do we need a dictionary and other linguistic references to understand what they write and share? The world has never been connected as before, new medias, new tools make us “connected” anywhere to anyone, sharing a thought, a picture or collecting knowledge (eLearning, MOOCs, and much more), but we have never been in an ocean of complicated expressions and acronyms. Is there a kind of desire from experts to maintain their audiences under the impression that expertise is unavailable to people – like us – and their presence still unavoidable into our lives? Learning the use of new tools has ever been that easy, the learning curve that took days is now a matter of few minutes for most of people.

When I notice some experts (Very knowledgeable experts whom I sincerely respect and value) starting throwing these words publicly I often face two simple actions: 1) feel sorry for them, as they still remain prisoners of their ivory tower and, 2) I simply stop following them!

Some years ago I trained people on computer technologies and software packages. Unfortunately I had to use books created by computer and IT specialists, therefore I had to spend almost an hour to make sure every attendee in class did understand the meaning of the words used at that time. SO once I had a class on computer hardware, people attending knew very little about hardware, even its meaning. So the easiest way for me was to bring them to the idea they had the control over the metal and circuits and data storage, etc. What easier than to “open these monsters” and show them what these were in fact!

I brought an old PC with me and started disassembling the machine, looking at their faces I could see excitement and some fear. During the demonstration I had people asking “Aren’t you ruining the machine?” The amazing part was when I unpacked floppy disks and showed them what was inside, and how >to ruin all the data by touching with the fingers the material!”

I can assure you, as I was 100% certain these people knew better than ever how to take care of their data, and maintain their computer at work or at home in a very proper manner.

I don’t think nor agree that “complexity sells better”, maybe the first time, then people will make different choices and seek elsewhere where they feel considered as human and respected accordingly!

If complexity sells better, I’d rather imagine that sharing in simplicity rewards much better.

Have a great day,

Michel – September 9, 2014


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