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Discussion topic : Why we should consider simplicity during the design phase.

GBA Editor | Posted in Energy Efficiency and Durability on

I came across a posting from Robert Bean’s Healthy Heating site. I took a HRAI course that he taught on Radiant Hydronic when I started thinking about how I’d heat my house. The points he makes are somewhat aimed at hydronics designers but can apply to the whole house as a system too I believe.

It gets to the point I have argued when the discussion was around John Straube’s insulation versus photovoltaics with respect to PassivHaus (Passive House)

the link to Robert’s posting<a>


This is a reminder to all who continue to design and install complex customized HVAC systems…

RB’s Rules of Design

This “10 fundamental rules for the age of user experience technology” from Andreas Pfeiffer ended up in our offices a few years back and we have since used it extensively in our presentations to drive home the point of simplicity…

1. More features isn’t better, it’s worse.
2. You can’t make things easier by adding to them.
3. Confusion is the ultimate deal-breaker.
4. Style matters.
5. Only features that provide a good user experience will be used.
6. Features requiring learning will only be adopted by a small fraction of users
7. Unused features are not only useless, they can slow you down and diminish ease of use.
8. Users do not want to think about technology.
9. Forget about the killer feature.
10. Less is difficult, that’s why less is more.

A couple of other consideration we teach…

1. There is an inverse relationship between the introduction of complexity (increasing) and available skilled labor (decreasing).

2. There is an inverse relationship between the introduction of new components and systems (increasing) and distributions ability to stock replacement parts (decreasing).

3. There is a somewhat parallel relationship between distributions ability to stock replacement parts for complex systems (decreasing) and service contractors ability to respond to complex problems (decreasing).

4. Reduced cognitive abilities, loss of manual dexterity and visual acuity are often associated later on with those who can afford “state of the art” today, but won’t be able to manage the “art” as a result of their physical and psychological state in the future – see item 1 re: availability of skilled labor.

5. It is unreasonable to expect the non technical person to compensate for products and systems which are either bad by design or manufacturing defects and/or beyond the managing capacities’ of the user.

Before you take on that next project give these ideas serious consideration.

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  1. GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #1

    Good rules. I discussed this topic in my blog, "Simplicity versus Complexity."

  2. Riversong | | #2

    I would suggest that your list is, itself, far too complex to be useful.

    I prefer Wendell Berry's criteria for adopting a new technology or tool:

    Wendell Berry’s Standards for Appropriate Technology

    To make myself as plain as I can, I should give my standards for technological innovation in my own work. They are as follows:

    1. The new tool should be cheaper than the one it replaces.
    2. It should be at least as small in scale as the one it replaces.
    3. It should do work that is clearly and demonstrably better than the one it replaces.
    4. It should use less energy than the one it replaces.
    5. If possible, it should use some form of solar energy, such as that of the body.
    6. It should be repairable by a person of ordinary intelligence, provided that he or she has the necessary tools.
    7. It should be purchasable and repairable as near to home as possible.
    8. It should come from a small, privately owned shop or store that will take it back for maintenance and repair.
    9. It should not replace or disrupt anything good that already exists, and this includes family and community relationships.

  3. Riversong | | #3

    In terms of house design, there's probably no better expert than "subtractive designer" Professor Jay Shaffer, creator of the Tumbleweed 100 sf homes.

    He has lectured on the subject of subtractive design for green building seminars and schools including The Boston School of Architecture and the University of Iowa School of Art and Art History where he served as adjunct assistant professor for more than a decade. Professor Shafer’s designs and essays on the subject of low-impact architecture can be found in periodicals including “The Wall Street Journal”, “Fine Home Building” and “This Old House” and in several books including “Move House”, “Informal Architecture” and “Freewheeling Homes”.

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