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Showing Simplicity and Complexity at Once

The Information Balcony sparks a question basic to information design. How do you simplify complexity without losing something important? And then, recognizing that both simplicity and complexity are important: Where should I put my focus? Which is more important to zero in on, the simplicity or the complexity?

The answer is both.

There is no intrinsic value in mirroring complexity when presenting information, except when an attempt at simplicity distorts the information itself. Almost all information can benefit from simple guidance. Despite a law of increasing complexity in most things, there is a countervailing need for simplicity that grows out of the complexity itself, as though both were somehow part of the same process. Yet often complexity is necessary to understanding something crucial—for example, complex adaptive systems such as ant colonies or corporations. This leads to another Form Rule:

The goal of structure is not to simplify complexity, but to manage it.

The best way to understand this process—because it is the process inherent in much of the information we need and use—is to see both things at once. What we need, then, are tools that allow us to see both things.

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