Hyper-complexity: Hallmark of Poor Design

I think this is a fair statement: if a solution is highly complicated, it is a poor design.

Sweeping generalization, I know.

I am thinking about some systems that are being implemented in an organization. Highly complicated systems. I am also thinking about conversations I’ve had with designers over the years: all kinds of designers — landscape architects, graphic designers, work-process designers, information designers, industrial designers, software designers.

What is it that lets you know you are on the right track, when you are designing something? Ease. If the design gets kludgey, you’re in trouble.

It is somewhat similar in spirit to a workaround, only without the grace. A kludge is often used to change the behavior of a system after it is finished, without having to make fundamental changes.

Okay, so here I am, looking at some infrastructure systems that are being proposed and cringing at the inelegance. Were the original infrastructure designs a crock? Undoubtedly.

But trying to hack without unravelling the thread, without examining the history/purposes of the original solutions is a losing proposition.


Complex system alterations (and resulting processes) are bound to be inefficient, inelegant, and even unfathomable.

I’m dogged by chaotic “design.” It makes me obsessive-compulsive — how can this be happening? Why doesn’t the initiator see the folly of her ways?

Pages and pages and pages of process docs. Inability to clearly explain intentions of the system changes. Disregard for ripple effect (or, rather, a plan to move forward and then figure out the ripple effects later). It makes me believe there is a fundamental flaw in the vision.

Can I, as a designer, call “bad design” on a project outside of my own field, based on some kind of universal principle of thoughtful, elegant, optimal design?


One Response

  1. from what you’re describing, i’d say your worries are legit! infrastructure and systems, as well as software MUST be designed from the user’s point of view. whenever i hear system designers who cannot, in a simple way, explain why a system is built as it is – there is usually a design problem which stems from poor understanding of the users and often poor alignment with overall goals and visions. i’m thinking the principle your looking for is a ‘user centered design model’?

    oh, and i think it’s very interesting what you’ve done with the blog, the new categories and that you write about these more work/technology related topics. i’ve had sooooo much to do lately, i haven’t really had the time to dig into it yet. so, just wanted to say i like it 🙂

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