Everything I can remember ever hearing about interface design has included, at one point or another, the basic rule, “Keep it simple.” And yet Craig Standing and Stephen Benson from the School of Management Information Systems at Edith Cowan University in Perth, Australia, argue that there are some times when “complex, less easy to use interfaces will tend to produce better results.”
In their paper Irradiating intranet knowledge: the role of the interface published in Volume 4 Issue 3 of the Journal of Knowledge Management, Standing and Benson propose a view of knowledge that includes both internal and external aspects of knowledge. As anyone familiar with the field of Knowledge Management is aware, the first (and probably biggest) hurdle you have to jump to get into the field is answering the question, “What is knowledge?” As the authors describe in detail (and I simplify here), knowledge can be broadly characterized into two types: knowledge that can be “externalized”, or made explicit; and knowledge that is “internalized”, or tacit.
Knowledge that can be externalized lends itself very well to an easy interface, since all you are trying to do is find that knowledge so you can make use of it. Internal knowledge, on the other hand, comes from the process of figuring things out, and there is very rarely an “easy” (i.e., standardized) way to go about this.
To use a sports analogy, consider rock climbing. The very basic skill/ability that is required is incredible upper body strength. A simple measure of this strength is your ability to do pull-ups, and doing a lot of pullups is a very good – and simple – way to get this strength. But just because you can do a lot of pull-ups doesn’t mean you are, or ever will be, a good rock climber. Climbing on uneven, unknown rock is much more difficult than simply doing pull-ups. Where pull-ups are rote exercises (very little thought required, you just do it), climbing involves a lot of thought. Do I use this hand or this hand? Do I move my legs now or later? Should I go right or left? etc etc etc.
If you want to learn how to rock climb, you have to just go out and climb. Or, if you make the training “interface” challenging (i.e., “less easy to use”) enough, you will learn what you need to know so you can go out and effectively apply the knowledge – tacit, internal knowledge – that you have developed.