I’ve been thinking of this post for a while, and have decided that rather than trying to come up with a better way to explain it, I’d just explain how I picture it in my head. Consider this post to be one-part UX design related and one-part insight into my mental processes.
It’s a UX related thing, but I’ve not been able to work out how to explain it particularly clearly. It’s a discussion of the complexity of designing a user experience versus the complexity of the resulting experience, and how it’s far from a one-to-one mapping between the two. By which I mean that a really simple experience can be really complicated and troublesome to design, whilst a complex looking design is often the result of a *lack* of complexity in the design process.
I have a way that I visualize the complexity of a design as it’s developed, and also a way that I visualize the complexity of the end result. At the moment, I explain it to myself as a kind of n-dimensional sausage, with each cross section of the sausage along it’s n-dimensional length being an m-dimensional shape. The user’s flow through the process invovles them passing through each of those m-dimensional shapes as they progress along the n-dimensional sausage.
In each m-dimensional cross-section, each dimension represents an option or decision made available to the user. Sometimes the options at a point along the user’s journey can be shown as a simple 2d grid, other times it gets fiendishly complex and you need a 14+ dimensional grid to map out the complex mesh of interactions.
On the user’s journey along the sausage, this includes only the small number of possibilities left available to them by the designer.
On the designer’s journey along the sausage, this includes the vast number of possibilities that can be conceived of. The designer has to actively cast aside any filters based on sanity, possibility, capability, viability, appropriateness or other such trivial concerns. They have to take every dimension into account. Each m-dimensional cross section is, for a multidimensional interpretation of the word, fatter. Often by orders of magnitude. The designer has to consider all of the options – all of the dimensions. They have to decide which will make sense to the user and so should be made visible. They also have to consider which would make sense and be appealing to the user… but happen to be impossible, impractical or otherwise undesirable and so should be closed off before the user gets the idea to explore them.
The designer’s goal is to take a fat and bloated multidimensional sausage and pare it down until it suits the tastes of the end-user. Don’t go looking at a nice, well formed sausage and assume that no work went into it – remember that the designer has already chopped out the hideous fatty lumps, the trotters, the teeth and the gristle so you don’t discover them mid-mouthful. Chances are, the better the sausage, the greater the amount of effort that went into making it that way.