The Law of Unintended Consequences

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From Wikipedia:

“Any intervention in a complex system may or may not have the intended result, but will inevitably create unanticipated and often undesirable outcomes”

The key part of this is that there are MORE outcomes than just the one that is the goal.  They might be unfortunate, sometimes they are actually very beneficial.  This is the part of the law that I love.

When doing UX design, I always understand that the system is complex, dynamic and fluid.  Nothing stays the same.  However, if you are creative and open to discovery, you can find unintended and positive outcomes.

For example:  I will often design something “fun” into an application.  Something with zero business value.  My intent is to make the customer feel positive towards a “friendly” application.  In one app, I made control-alt-shift M flip the screen upside down.  No value, and customers actually didn’t even find it 99% of the time.  However, there was an unintended consequence…

The engineering team loved it.  It was an inside joke.  The engineers felt like human beings and not cold programming robots.  It brought some humor and life to the internal team.  It made the hard work of bug fixes a tiny bit more bearable.

This was purposeful in my mind, but not “intended”.  I knew that doing something fun like that would catch someone’s imagination, but I didn’t know how or where.  I just knew that fun was fun.

It might have had a negative consequence, but I was open and watching for it.  In most cases, a small tweak reduces those negative effects.

So the point is:  Embrace unintended consequences. Explore complex systems.  Try wild things, but watch the whole of the system.  Don’t fight the complexity.  Immerse yourself in it like swimming in the ocean.


Whatya think?