Living with complexity

Living with complexity

Published: May 2010

If only today's technology were simpler! It's the universal lament, but it's wrong. We don't want simplicity. Simple tools are not up to the task. The world is complex; our tools need to match that complexity. Simplicity turns out to be more complex than we thought. In this provocative and informative book, Don Norman writes that the complexity of our technology must mirror the complexity and richness of our lives. It's not complexity that's the problem, it's bad design. Bad design complicates things unnecessarily and confuses us. Good design can tame complexity.Norman gives us a crash course in the virtues of complexity. But even such simple things as salt and pepper shakers, doors, and light switches become complicated when we have to deal with many of them, each somewhat different. Managing complexity, says Norman, is a partnership. Designers have to produce things that tame complexity. But we too have to do our part: we have to take the time to learn the structure and practice the skills. This is how we mastered reading and writing, driving a car, and playing sports, and this is how we can master our complex tools. Complexity is good. Simplicity is misleading. The good life is complex, rich, and rewarding--but only if it is understandable, sensible, and meaningful.

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"As the world grows beyond the understanding of any one Renaissance man or woman, Donald Norman's missive is well timed." -

"Deep and enjoyably nail-hitting insights and recommendations fill his book. ... you will like Norman's calm voice, keen observations and sage counsel about what could be done. Read his book." - The Times Higher Education review


  • China (Simplified characters): CITC Publishing House
  • Taiwan (Complex characters): Yuan-Liou
  • Japan: Shinyosha
  • Korea: Kyobo Book Center
  • Italy: Pearson Bruno Mondadori

Table of Contents

  1. Living With Complexity: Why complexity is necessary (PDF 385kb)
  2. Simplicity Is in the Mind
  3. How Simple Things Can Complicate Our Lives
  4. Social Signifiers
  5. Sociable Design
  6. Systems and Services
  7. The Design of Waits
  8. Managing Complexity: A Partnership
  9. The Challenge