Creating simple out of the complex
"I can't think of any more patterns."
My 5-year old was doing typical kindergarten homework, with two sets of colored beads. Red and blue, always red and blue, his favorite colors. He had arranged the beads in two piles, and had been busily making alternating patterns with the beads: 1 red bead, 1 blue bead, 1 red bead ... 1, 2, 1, 2. Graduating to 2, 1, 1, 2, 1, 1 and even 1, 2, 2, 1, 1, 2. You get the idea. And he got bored easily.
"Let's add a color, bud." We set out with 1, 2, 3, 1, 2, 3 and a few variations. Booooring. He rolled his eyes at me.
What happened when we added another couple colors became interesting, and made me think about the inherent difficulties of creating the simple out of the complex. My kid was struggling to manifest coherent patterns given a more complex data set; 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 were okay, and even the variants - 1, 2, 2, 3, 4, 4, 5, 6, 1, 2, 2, 3, 4, 4, 5, 6, but his data became much more sequential in nature as we upped the game. He was falling back to a linear starting point and branching his variants from there.
Sometimes, when building a user experience that is by its very nature complex, we fall into the same, well, pattern.
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I'm in the middle of a complicated problem in my day job (my favorite kind)... unifying completely different, fairly siloed products into a single unified user experience. Taking products with complex installation and support, and turning it into a single product with services or subscriptions that was dead simple. Make it easy like Apple. Its like untangling a slinky once stuck in that twisted, chaotic pile.
For me, everything comes down to patterning.
I wrote about this a few posts ago. Identifying commonalities is an important mechanism not just in the user experience, it's a base part of human nature. Finding patterns in software helps the user develop the cognitive pathways to move through a system efficiently, and create mental models. It's like muscle memory for your brain.
As UXers, we can occasionally pull back when facing extreme complexity, and fall into old pathways. This can be anything from maintaining a naming system that's been established because "that's what the users are familiar with" to shifting how a user moves through a system because the technology framework limits the natural direction. We think we are finding a middle ground to make all parties happy, when we're really compromising on the experience. We're eliminating or sometimes negating mental models that our users need to navigate our construct by failing to do the hard yards and think outside the box. Sometimes what seems like a maze really has a straight path right through, you just have to find it.
My biggest challenges every day are to not take anything for granted, and to look for commonalities in strange places. Seemingly disparate systems may have similar concepts. Find them and use them.
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4, 2, 2, 1, 5, 5, 3, 4, 4, 2, 1, 1, 5, 3, 3... My munchkin beamed. So did I, it was a beautiful one.