Complexity vs Simplicity

In my opinion, designers think complicated design is better than simple design too often. I think simple is better than complicated because complexity can make things more confusing and more difficult. Although, complex design can be an great looking design style, I think it can also be impractical in terms of construction difficulty, regular cleaning, and repairs. Quality and complexity are two completely different things. You can have low quality with simplicity or complexity & you can have high quality with simplicity or complexity. Although, I think simplicity is generally more practical. Anybody want to share their thoughts on complexity vs simplicity? I’d love to here them.

often I find, the appearance of simplicity - elegance, function, clarity entails complexity behind the curtain, so to speak.

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First off there is plain and intricate, and then simple and complex. Those are all four different things. Something plain would be like a circle, whereas something intricate would be like a fully detailed house. The simplicity and complexity has to do with how you present the design.

I think ultimately when deciding on how complex to make your presentation of a design that is either plain or intricate depends heavily on your audience. If they are adept then you can go with a complex presentation, if they are not then a simpler presentation would be the wiser choice so that they can grasp what is being presented.

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:+1: 110% agreed!

Right on.

A complex program doesn’t need a complex user interface. A good program will have a simple user interface and intelligently abstract the details with out removing them. One thing that most complex programs do wrong in my opinion, is having options ‘buried’ in menus and dialog boxes.

My Building Creator doesn’t throw any dialogs or popups at the user. There are no menus that need to be used, although I do have all commands in the menu so shortcuts can be assigned. I basically use the model as the user interface. The user clicks on an object in the model and my control panel changes to show options relevant to the selected object(s). The result is that one customer told me my app is 12 times faster than the competition (and I think that is an understatement). :slight_smile:

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I think the concept of complexity seems simple but is actually complex to understand. I mean, what exactly is complexity?

If you remove the human element from any program then there is only plain and intricate, and within each there is orderly and disorderly. So ideally the ultimate program for any field has to be as orderly as possible, regardless if its plain or intricate.

Complexity, would be a subjective quality which has to do with the capacity of the individual to use the program based on intricacy and orderliness. The more plain and orderly, the easier it is to use. The more intricate and disorderly, the more complex it is to use.

With all that said, then it makes no sense to say you should create a program or design that is simple or complex, but instead to say you should create a program or design as orderly as possible with a level of intricacy that meets your particular criteria, assuming even orderliness itself isn’t subject to a criteria given that sometimes it takes too much time and effort to make something more orderly when it doesn’t have to be perfect.

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In terms of using SketchUp for illustration as I do, I always prefer to make complex complicated scenes rather than simple ones. As for actual buildings, well I could not comment on that but I see your logic!

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It does not matter if it’s simple or complex, only if it is right.


I think designers often tend to over-simplify. I don’t know how many times at architecture school I’ve been told to reduce elements/aspects from a design for the sake of reducing it. I also too often struggle with user interfaces that are simplified to the point where there isn’t much substance (functionality) left, yet aren’t simple to use as they don’t obey well establish UX conventions. It’s important top remember that simplicity doesn’t equals to simple.

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My apologies for being redundant, but allow me to correct myself, clarify, and summarize.

There are essentially four properties at hand. They are size, intricacy, orderliness, and complexity.

Size is simply the quantity of components in the design.

Intricacy is the inter-connectivity of the components. As an example, a bunch of atoms arrayed in a line would be plain, whereas those same atoms assembled into a microprocessor would be intricate.

Orderliness is the correctness of the design.

And complexity is determined by the sum of all three of the above properties. The larger the size, the more intricate, and the more disorderly, then the more complex it is to comprehend.

The question of making a design simple or complex should be rephrased into its elemental properties. That is, one has to ask: How large should the design be? How intricate should it be? And how much effort should be put to making it orderly?

And the answer to those questions has to be determined by a criteria that will be different for each designer and for each project. For instance, if you are presenting a design to a bunch of brilliant adults who can absorb complexity, then you can make the design large and intricate. Whereas if your presenting something to a bunch of children, then choosing a simple design that is small and plain makes more sense.


Well, such big questions aren’t easily answered in the typically short replies of social media. They are more typically addressed in whole books like Robert Venturi’s “Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture,” but maybe the challenge for conciseness is worth the try. Lets see if I can reduce a long talk I’m working on to four sentences:

We often attribute qualities like complexity and simplicity with the things we look at, but they are more a reflection of how our minds work. Our minds need to comprehend, find meaning in, or recognize the stuff around us. If that comprehension comes too easily, it’s boring, but if we can’t ever comprehend at all, it’s terrible. The right amount of mental challenge that makes our mind work and eventually delivers a reward of understanding is the most satisfying balance.

That said, one of the tools to work complexity and simplicity together is hierarchy. Hierarchy can give you a quick, initial understanding of something that has a lot of underlying complexity. In time, you can explore the details and work that out too, bit by bit. That works in a lot of places. In a single illustration, take @liamk887’s exploding imperial cruiser; in an instant you get the big picture of what’s happening, yet look at it long enough and you find lots of other details to look at. For computer interface design, an initial simple presentation of the important parts with some good assumptions for default settings, and the ability to drill down to more options when you need to go find them makes a lot of complexity manageable.


I think you are right. It’s important to have the main basic functions visible and easily available. The ‘nuts & bolts’ details shouldn’t be completely ‘buried’ (as in difficult to find). Where a lot of programs fail in my opinion is that instead of abstracting the ‘nuts & bolts’ details and allowing the user to set defaults, they force users to go through pages of dialogs.

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Nothing is too complex if everything on it is needed. Nothing is too simple if it doesn’t lack anything needed.

So, a thing is right if it answers every need.

Therefore level of complexity or simplicity of a thing is not a design issue, posing the right questions and answering them correctly is.


Complexity is a vague term.

My point is that a user, being new to the program, should be able to figure out how to do what he wants by looking at the user interface. Probably the above mentioned term orderliness would apply here.

A good example of what I call a complex app: I purchased an ERP system recently for about $40k. I like to think I’m the kind of guy that can figure stuff out my self. Well I ran into a situation where I couldn’t do what I wanted. I know the software is capable of doing it. Three weeks and three support ‘professionals’ later and I still don’t have a solution. Actually on the last call there were two support people on the line and they admitted that they don’t understand that portion of the software very well. Obviously it’s too complex or it could be figured out.


I think that they sometimes do that on purpose so you end up paying through the teeth for support…speaking from experience for a couple of large ‘unnamed’ suppliers. :joy:

In my case the support is a set monthly fee, so I’d think they’d be hurting themselves by making it so difficult

you can name them, I wont be offended :slight_smile:

Here as a great video on the subject

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Adobe AEM

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I agree, but this is the work of designers, finding difficult and complicated solutions to problems that do not exist.


That looks like the type of door I would not want to come home to after a few hours in the pub… :face_with_thermometer:


But it could be the door to the pub

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