Simplicity Through Understanding

Here at AC4D our focus is on understanding and designing solutions for Wicked Problems.  These are social problems that are intertwined and woven into the complexity of our human systems and interactions.  Part of what we’re learning here are methods for cutting though the complexity around these problems.  Ultimately we can’t influence and change a system until we understand it, and really that’s where the heart of simplicity lies.

Simplicity is understanding; whether it’s a complex problem like heath records, or comparatively well defined, like a thermostat. Once we understand the parts of a system we can then design, smart, simple solutions.

Over the last few weeks I’ve been designing a thermostat.  Just as with my team’s research around heath records, building a thermostat is a human centered process.

Each week I iterated on the design and put it out into the world in the form of prototype testing with potential users.  Each of those test users found new issues and illuminated different areas for simplification; only by building this understanding with real people was I able to refine my design.

Below you can see the translation from an existing thermostat concept model, to my first iteration, to my final iteration 

Simplicity in design isn’t really about removing things from your design; it’s about choosing the right things to put in.  By understanding what a person really needs we’re able to directly address those needs, and ignore the superfluous.

In the case of my thermostat, this meant removing all but the basic features: setting the temperature (one for when you’re home, one for when you’re not) and switching between heat, cool, and fan modes.  This simplification allowed me to really play around with the form of the design and focus on how I was communicating with the user.

By constructing a good understanding of the users needs, I was able to focus on the simplicity of my design.  This resulted in a flexible and robust system.  School here at AC4D is coming to a close for the quarter, but I plan on working on this design to bring it to a higher fidelity, rendered version in the weeks to come.

Final Thermostat Wireframes

Thank you, and if you have any questions or comments feel free to contact me at

– jacob