Complexity — whether by negligence or design — creates power but never power for the user. This is why a relatively new discipline called UX (User Experience) design is crucial to business. We must appreciate the users’ experience when we make a product.
It is a UX designer’s job to design the experience to make it better, to empower users. They start a design process by creating the flow and the opt outs that a user will follow through a transaction (and ideally any interaction) on a website, app, or physical product. A product or graphic designer gives this flow its appearance and a developer makes it work. I would argue that the charge of UX designers is to make the experience simpler in all aspects.
We’ve all had the experience of adding a few things to an online shopping cart and proceeding through the checkout process only to question “can I change my billing address?” or “what does shipping cost?” We look for the explanation of the process, a hint at the next step to come, or instructions to complete the process (e.g. “You can always change your order before finalizing it.”)
If that process has been designed by a UX expert, the answers are usually apparent. If it has not, we often abandon the cart, not completing the sale.
Too often, products and services aren’t designed by someone who aims to improve it but by a business person who wants to complicate it in order to ensnare a customer. This complexity never helps the user and in most cases, makes life worse on the employee who must support it. Complex systems are difficult to maintain.
A group of UX designers created a website to elucidate these power-creating complexities that they call “Dark Patterns” in design. They define their term this way:
A Dark Pattern is a type of user interface that appears to have been carefully crafted to trick users into doing things, such as buying insurance with their purchase or signing up for recurring bills.
Normally when you think of “bad design”, you think of the creator as being sloppy or lazy but with no ill intent. This type of bad design is known as a “UI anti-pattern”. Dark Patterns are different — they are not mistakes, they are carefully crafted with a solid understanding of human psychology, and they do not have the user’s interests in mind.
On DarkPatterns.org the designers open up these complex designs that rig the game in favor of the business. The site is worth a look if you want to see how you’re being consciously manipulated.
The other side of complexity is that it’s often created by negligence or rush. We inherit complexity when we take shortcuts. Simplicity requires discipline and thoughtfulness. When we “just make it work,” we skip all those steps where we consider what could go wrong and plan to simplify the process.
We want to be empowered to make good choices as employees and users. It’s good to empower your users. Turning users into conscious agents who choose your product or service leads to more loyalty. We shouldn’t be striving to confuse users so much that they just relent to working with us.
When users feel they’ve been overwhelmed by complexity, they’ll often just walk away from us. It’s incredibly difficult to win back those disaffected users. They’ve already been confused once. Why would they try again?