Throughout the history of Art and Design, new philosophies and ideas have led to movements that collectively try to address and critique the failures of ongoing notions. These higher-order values guide the individual processes in all subsidiaries of design. In a relatively young field of digital product design, the most prevalent idea is simplicity and minimalism. After a busy-looking “dot com” era, designers flocked to cleaner and crisper aesthetics, trimming the fat and making the product lean. In all this editing, however, digital products seem to lose the richness and robustness of complex systems.
Coming in from an engineering perspective, redundancy serves to increase the reliability of a product and reduce the risk of single-point failures. Redundancy in product design is the practice of adding extra components or features to a product to increase its reliability. This can include adding extra parts that serve the same purpose as existing parts, as well as adding additional features that add value to the product.
In design, however, redundancy is almost always seen as bloat. This seems to be an over-correction from the hangover of overwhelming and draining interfaces. Just like social changes follow the path of a pendulum, designing interfaces have moved from one extreme to the other. It seems, however, that there is another shift to the other side as designers realise that keeping it simple is silly when your products demand complexity.
Research done at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology titled Redundancy as a Design Principle and an Operating Principle by John Carol went over the concept of Redundancy, and why it may have a place in good design, particularly in cases of higher stakes decision making. Given how in the recent past digital interactions have become ever-increasingly higher stakes for the common person, it becomes important to possibly shed the NN group mindset of going for pure simplicity and never preparing oneself.
In terms that will help designers, redundancy is progressively becoming an essential principle of good design because it increases reliability and robustness. Adding redundant components to a system can help it recover from partial or total failure since any single component can fail without disrupting the system. Redundancy can also help increase the efficiency of a system, as it allows for parallel processing, which can improve performance. Redundancy also helps to improve the scalability of a system, as it allows for the addition of more components without the need for major redesigns over time.
As experience designers, we hope to emulate specific emotional responses in our users, guiding them through journeys by being an invisible helping hand. Trying to achieve that perfect flow is like making a Ramen Tare. Concentrating all the flavours into a perfectly balanced umami bomb takes time, experience and hard work. The problem with this approach is that it attacks the fundamentals of human-centric design. Humans aren’t perfect, and everyone interacts and understands models a bit differently. One experience can’t rule them all, and no experience is perfect.
…Redundancy is thus a substitute for perfect parts — John Carroll
Rather than designing your products using a singular perspective, it’s better to make them a patchwork of individual modules.
It produces anti-fragility
Marred with the prejudice of high development overheads, redundancy is often neglected. Systemic redundancy, when designed with intention, can do your products more good than harm. One of the most important reasons to have redundant systems is to avoid a single point of failure. It’s a rule of thumb in any engineering effort to have at least one, if not multiple, backups. This increases the resilience of the system and makes it robust. Remember when the Death Star blew up because of that exhaust vent? A couple of systemic redundancies would have made sure that didn’t happen.
It improves usability
While designing use cases and user stories, it is apparent that different people have different preferences. What works for one person might not necessarily be suitable for another. This is because each person has their own unique understanding of the world, and therefore varying approaches to interactions. It is important to keep this in mind when creating user stories and use cases, as it can make a huge difference in the success or failure of the design. By taking the time to consider the needs of different people, over time, it is possible to create a design that works for everyone.
For instance, a product like Notion, which attracts both casual and extreme users, needs to develop its interactions in such a way that it satisfies both groups. An excellent example is the slash (”/”) command for inserting markdown components. If you are a beginner, it provides an intuitive and fast way to write. That being said, Notion did not leave out the ability to enter native markdown syntax — something that the extreme users appreciate and need.
Slash commands on notion bring in markdown functionality by lowering the barrier of entry for new users.
Similarly, products are trying to employ multiple ways to achieve the same thing. You can either go to google sheets and click on the new document button or simply type sheets.new in your browser to open a new document. Features like these help users interact with the product as they like and give ownership of the processes to the users.
It enables better testing
Like you can have multiple ways to address the same problem, and you can also test two solutions simultaneously. The solutions are often apparent, but when designers have a few options to choose from, it can be helpful to let them fight it out. This doesn’t mean that you have to develop both flows, but rather build in a small unit and test it out. There can be cascading benefits in doing this sort of A/B testing that can lead to better solutions that weren’t apparent initially.
It ensures better trust
Trust precedes interaction and propels the use of a product. If the users don’t trust your product and do not feel safe using it, then even the smoothest interactions and animations cannot save it. In his article “**Redundancy as a Design Principle and an Operating Principle”,** John Carroll argues that the most important effect of redundancy is that it makes us feel safe. Digital products have become critical and have real-world consequences. There is an increased responsibility that needs to be met, and when they are not, bad things can happen.
Think of our thoughts here as a superset to the idea of healthy friction — more on that here.
As we bring more critical products closer to users, we need to realise that a product is not just the user’s interaction with the product but also a product’s interaction with the user. Redundancy is a key tool to help us navigate not only newer, more exciting interfaces but also to make sure that the systems won’t fail in extreme scenarios. The thought of simplistic design, while sounds nice and dandy, can be harmful, and it’s naive (maybe ignorant even) not to recognise and act accordingly. As this field evolves, the past ideas have shown a lack of depth required for making such influential products and, therefore, the ideas need to change.