Saturday, 28 April 2012

Complexification is a killer

A message flashed up on my laptop yesterday when I unplugged it to take it with me for the day.  The message was about the "USB human interface device".

I was puzzled.  I had no idea what that could be.  I looked at all the things I have plugged into my USB ports and realised that they were talking about the mouse.  Human interface device seems like overkill - so many more words and letters and space taken up when a single, five-letter word would do and be immediately understood.

How did this happen, this complexification?

One aspect of the work I do is to assist people with government departments, tribunals and some simple legal matters.  The area people need most help with is understanding what they're being asked to do.  Even simple information is transformed into something terrifying through ambiguous and complicated language.  I've had many conversations where I listen to the ten minute explanation of what happens next and then I say something in summary.  Usually the summary sounds like "so you're saying they would have to pay?"  The answer is usually yes.

The law and bureaucracy touch all of our lives everyday and information should be accessible, meaning available and able to be understood.

I noticed this quote on the end of one of my client's emails the other day: Beware of complexifiers and complicators. Truly "smart people" simplify things (Tom Peters).

I'm running the simplification checker over what I do, say and write from now on.  

The people who came up with the idea of a device to assist human beings to interface with a computer were probably pretty smart.  The people who looked at it and called it a mouse were probably smarter.

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