Complex user experiences

by priyasaraswat
2 minutes read

Famous philosophers of Ancient Greece Plato and Aristotle devoted their life to one goal– helping people to reach a state of what is termed as ‘Eudaemonia’. In Greek philosophy, Eudaemonia means a state of fulfillment or achieving the best conditions possible for a human being. But that’s the beauty of being human that we are not flawless. We are imperfect, that’s the reason we are never satisfied. So the state of Eudaemonia seems like a formidable goal to me.

Among several other reasons, the complexities of human life and our curiosity towards it is a prime reason for our dissatisfaction. Complexity, like the term art or value, is hard to define, although most of us recognize it when we see it. Complex bias is the belief that complex objects are better than a simple one. The term denotes an irrational preference for complexity over simple things that may be more affordable. So, what do you think, do you have a complexity bias? A cell phone, a car or even a television, will you prefer one with just a basic functionality or several cool features. Somewhere I guess we human enjoy complexity more than anything.

People say they want a simple life. The path to live a simple life is to let go of everything. But, what will be the fun in doing that or what will be the challenge? What will happen to our brains then? We don’t necessarily want to give away the complex parts rather the complicated ones, like the complicated relationships, thoughts, habits, and people.

Complex and complicated are two different things. And it’s not only true for life or humans but also for design. Complexity is just how the world works. Complexity in design depends on how we designers perceive it and think about it. Are the designs that we are calling simple are actually simple or another deception that we are creating for our users? Or do our users actually need a simple product?

Complexity in design is very subjective. Design or product that might look simple at first can be hard to understand while a complex looking system sometimes makes perfect sense. A quote from the book ‘Living with Complexity’-“Modern technology can be complex, but complexity by itself is neither good nor bad: it is confusion that is bad.” Chaos and confusion tend to disguise themselves as complexity, and this is where designers should carefully separate those elements while thinking of a solution.

We designers often confuse ourselves by saying we are solving a complex problem when we are not actually ‘solving’ it. The product we are working on still might be very complex with tonnes of features and operations. What we are really doing is, making our user traverse that complexity without getting bothered by the intricacies behind the scene.

And, as our users are getting more and more immersed in the product, the complexities are becoming normality for them. They aren’t thinking — but are they recognizing? Maybe they are just accepting the fact that this is how your product works without being excited about it. Are we creating an illusion of it being simple or trying to make things understandable despite them being naturally complex? All similar questions will lead us to measure user-centeredness of our solution.

Related image
B2B and B2C shares similar innovation and design thinking principles. However, in B2B each phase demands knowledge of the product that most of us don’t use in our day to day life. Source

Some products are inherently more complex than others (Check out this awesome article by Erik Klimczak on designing complex products). For example products in Business to Business(B2B) space fall under this category. If you are a designer like me who is or who has worked in B2B space you can relate to the complexity part. Unlike Business to Consumer(B2C) products, B2B products are for specific needs of people or companies in a particular field or domain which makes the role of a designer little challenging. The battle against complexity in these scenarios can only be won if we understand the product ourselves, well before we propose any design solution. Our one design decision can impact several other parts and sometimes in ways which are hard to predict. So only if we have a holistic approach to the complexity, we can make a highly sophisticated system work flawlessly for its users.

The complexity in user experience design becomes a problem when designers mix it with the complexity of the interface. When we are working towards simplifying the interface, we are not actually aiming for a ‘less complex’ product but something which is ‘easy to navigate’. And yes, of course, this is our role as designers but…

We can play a bigger role by widening our perspective and asking some harder questions such as– Whom we are empowering– The product or the user? Are we making a conscious effort to make our users understand the complexity rather than just hiding it in a ‘more’ menu? And a much larger question — What are we doing to eliminate unnecessary complexities? Can we push back on features that are just making the product complex and are not actually solving a real user problem? Answers to all these questions will make us think of a solution that is not just intuitive but also evokes feelings of trust and appreciation among our users.


Intuitiveness is not a requirement in design, it’s the foundation. Design by nature should be intuitive. I am not saying that a product or a design can’t have a learning curve. I rather believe in having a learning curve especially when we are introducing a complex UX to our users. I guess all I want us to be cognizant about the fact that through our product or design we may be defining a ‘new normal’ for our users. So if this ‘new normal’ is not only ‘easy to understand’ but ‘easy to perform’ then only it is ‘easy to recall’ and ‘easy to form a routine’.

Which learning curve you will prefer for your product? Source


We should always think of a product’s knowledge space as a continuum which goes from knowing nothing about it to knowing everything someone could possibly know. And the mantra for that is not new, it’s ‘Empathy’. Just be mindful of the fact that our decisions have consequences for ourselves and others, so decide wisely.

Simplicity, on the other hand, is not always true for every design. Simple doesn’t mean easy. Things that are ‘easy to understand’ aren’t always ‘easy to do’. Like I may understand the recipe but that doesn’t mean I can cook a delicious meal all by myself. The famous quote from Dutch computer scientist and an early pioneer of computing science, Edsger W. Dijkstra summarize simplicity in an excellent way — “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.”

Simplicity and complexity are not conflicting thoughts rather concepts that can live in harmony. What makes a complex design look simple is all its bits and pieces are organized in harmony and ways that are recognizable thus, making it look cleaner, more understandable and more easy to act on.

Eudaemonia might be a far-fetching concept in the real world, but in design, we can still work towards it by making human interactions pain-free by embracing complexity. Working on these complex user experiences and making them uncomplicated and convincing is what makes our job as designers so gratifying.

So next time don’t confuse complexity in design with something which is confusing and complicated. Remember, complexity is a friend of all UXers 🙂