01 September 2007

Fractal Simplicity

The boundary of the Mandelbrot set is a famous example of a fractal.

I've been thinking about something Terry Bleizeffer wrote in the review of my Simplicity Cycle. Actually, it's two things, but they're basically revolving around a single idea.

"...different parts of a product are probably following their own paths - some in simplify mode and some in add feature mode, so a single line doesn't really represent a whole product."


"The place where complexity becomes too much is different for different users (and sometimes radically different). So the graph is really representing the perspective of one user group.

These are very insightful observations, and I rather agree with both of them. But, here's the missing piece, which I should probably add if/when I do a revised version of the book: The Simplicity Cycle is sort of like a fractal. (Ironically, Wikipedia says fractals are "infinitely complex").

That is, if you zoom in on a product, experience, design, system, etc, you'll find the sub-parts go through a similar cycle, perhaps on their own somewhat-independent timeline. A single chart actually does represent a whole product - but it doesn't necessarily represent each sub system, because the sub-systems have their own cycles. As Terry pointed out, the graph certainly represents the perspective of one user or one user group - but it can also scale up to represent the perspective of a very large user group.

My point is this: it's not an either-or situation. In a large-scale design effort, the Simplicity Cycle describes what happens to the entire system, the larger "system of systems" and the smaller sub-systems... not that they all go through the cycle at the same time or in the same way, just that they all go through it.

As a general rule, I'm pretty skeptical of bivalent logic and the "law of the excluded middle." I guess it's my post-modern roots showing through, but it seems to me that life is seldom an either-or proposition.

1 comment:

Mark said...

Well, Dan, either bivalent logic is right, or it is wrong. It's just that simple.