Complexification

Generally speaking, I am not a fan of the way the business world coins new words by taking old ones and adding syllables. Typically this is seen as “verbing” – that is, taking a perfectly good noun and turning it into a verb by adding syllables like “-ify” “-ize” or “-ate.” (My favorite – or least favorite, I should say – was when a perfectly intelligent woman said that we should “calendarize” the tasks for a project. What’s wrong with plain old “schedule” or “plan”?)

Today, however, I stumbled across this word – “complexification” which, it seems, has graduated at least as far as Wikipedia (if not Webster’s) as a term beyond its original mathematical realm. Clearly that is the modern equivalent of a step in its evolution to a fully assimilated English word. And actually, I kind of like it. It’s the context, I think. It describes a phenomenon that is even more disturbing to me than verbing.

Complexification is to products what scope creep is to projects. It describes the adding of features to a perfectly good single-purpose product until it requires a DVD demonstration to instruct its user in its proper operation. This article from today’s Seattle Times entitled “Feature creep really bites” describes this problem with a rant about a toothbrush. Well, not exactly a toothbrush, it’s actually an “IntelliClean System.” Need I say more?

I think I first became aware of this problem when my now 8-year-old son, at the age of 2, picked up a perfectly good toy that required nothing more than imagination to play with and asked, “What does it DO?” Thereafter, toys with batteries were all but banned from my household. Classic toys, by way of eBay, garage sales, and hand-me-downs are, for the most part, the standard in my home. Thankfully, we got a “Sit n’ Spin” when my son was only 18 months old. Why “thankfully?” Well, by the time my younger son (now5) came along, Sit n’ Spin was no longer simply a fun way to make oneself feel completely dizzy and fall over. It had LIGHTS! MUSIC! FUN! Wasn’t it fun enough to just SIT and SPIN?!

What I found especially interesting about the Seattle Times article is the discusson of how consumers drive this complexification by demanding FEATURES at the point of sale and then lamenting the lack of USABILITY at home. There is a double-edged sword there. Marketing features is much easier than marketing usability. The commercials are flashier, the in-store demos are sexier, and there is so much more potential for boosting the ego of a gadget-geek with features. But at the end of the day, if the product is too hard to use without an instruction DVD, it’s worthless. Isn’t it?

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