The complexity of simplicity. Technology and Architecture.

Once upon a time everything was easier.  Or at least we think it was.

It probably never was.  (OK- it definitely never was- think of Pa Engels trying to get to Mankato and you’ll see my point)

We’re working on a project right now with a client with substantially more trips around the sun than me.  When confronted with the complexity of options in things like a phone system or selection of a refrigerator she likes to remind us… “when we built our first house we just called AT&T and they came and put in a perfectly good phone that never had a problem…”   Truth is if all you wanted was to rotary dial- that old phone would still work.  Problem is- we expect more.

The point of this post is to look at how we manage all these “conveniences” that poke their heads into our designed world and how to stuff them back in the box- or at least polish them into something that results in convenience and not aggravation.  Ideally we take the pile of complexity and reduce it to a few knobs and buttons (ok ok maybe some touch screens) that never need to be thought about again (or at least until the next cool convenience is needed).

In a house in 2010 you have ALL the traditional stuff to think about (like floor plans, structures, heating, cooling etc).  Most homeowners now demand a whole other host of “stuff.”  Lighting is not a floor lamp with a thumb switch-  we have scenes, and coves, and down-lights, and accents, and ambient sources to coordinate and control.  We don’t have TVs with two knobs-  we have cable boxes and receivers, and sound conditioners, 9-channels of sound, 3 kinds of radio, music libraries- all digital, all high def- and frequently portable (yes ipod I’m talking to you).  We have phone systems that are little cell networks and answering services, and we overlay a family worth of laptops, personal computers, blackberries, iphones.  You want to print? Open and close the blinds?  Raise and lower the temperature?  Set the alarm?  Sense fire or smoke of CO?

Great.  A set of buttons and a wall device for each one.  A 747 worth of controls for each room.  Now how do I change the volume?  Oh crap… the TV just changed channels… maybe this one? no the furnace just shut off…  OK this button here?  no the radio just turned on.  Now I have no heat, the lights turned off, the radio and the TV are both playing full blast!   Make it go away!!!!

We hear it all the time… ” I just want a switch on the wall!”  but quickly it gets out of control.  In my own kitchen I have three switches (pendants, recessed, and under cabinet).  After 5 years I flip all three wrong switches every time I enter or leave the room.  AND I have a big ugly three gang at all three entrances to the room.

So- we advocate two approaches-  Go ALL in.  Or don’t go in at all.  We’ve seen success with both- but going half-sies gets disastrous quick.

A) All in:  This mean all lighting, AV, security, shading is centrally coordinated and distributed.  It lets the machines do the thinking, it lets you endlessly upgrade- and you get rid of all the “wall acne.”  It needs one person as the coordinator so a singular logic is applied.  When done correctly these systems are intuitive, bulletproof, fuctional, and expandable.

B) Not at all:  This means simple simple simple.  Single scene lighting, lamps with manual controls, shade and drapery with no motors, no phone system, a thermostat for each zone.  A cable box at each TV.  MAYBE a simple surround system for one main TV.

It’s an easy formula.

When you try to mix a little A and a little B- you limit you’re future options and you add complexity to you’re complexity.   We’ve seen the results and the results are frustrating for everyone.

So the lesson is put you’re complex technologies in one box-  or keep them out of your house entirely!

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One Response to “The complexity of simplicity. Technology and Architecture.”

  1. NC Says:

    Yes. Define the scope to the nth degree. Interview the client like they interview us. Test them on payment at the beginning and fire ASAP them when they get out of line.

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