Larry Tesler: Conservation of Complexity

Larry Tesler is a computer scientist with a strong background in Interaction Design. He´s been working for several decades at Xerox PARC, Yahoo!, Amazon and Apple Computer.

In 1985, while working for the MacApp object-oriented framework at Apple,Tesler came up with an interesting law called Conservation of Complexity. According to this statement every application have an inherent amount of irreducible complexity. Beyond a given point, simplification can´t be improved.

An example to understand Tesler´s law was given by Dan Shaffer in his book “Designing for Interaction“:

“For an e-mail message, two elements are required: your e-mail address and the address of the person to whom you are sending the mail. If either of these items is missing, the e-mail can´t be sent, and your e-mail client will tell you so. It´s a necessary complexity. But some of that burden has likely been shifted to your e-mail client. You don´t typically have to enter your e-mail address every time you send e-mail; the e-mail program handles that task for you (…). The complesity isn´t gone, thought – instead, some of it has been shifted to the software.”

But I think this complexity is just inherent to a period of time. Innovation technology is strong enough to overcome those complex situations we human are sometimes faced to. Complexity, when talking about technology, is just a question of time.