CTRL-Tab: Mastery, complexity, flow

So finally here’s the follow up post to the CTRL-Tab thing.

CTRL-Tab to page through browser tabs, F2 to edit in MS Office, and my all-time favourite CTRL-ALT-SHIFT-S in Photoshop to “save for web”. Do these arcane, unguessable key combinations offer a good user experience?

Simple answer: Yes. They offer efficiency and speed for users who have had a lot of practice. And they don’t clutter up the interface for those who haven’t.

What’s really interesting is how you feel when you use the advanced key combinations.

If you’re anything like me, you feel good. Why?

  1. Complexity is like acquired taste. The first time you tried curry, blue cheese, whiskey, oysters, broccoli or whatever it was, you didn’t really like it. But after years and years, you have come to love it. And the simple baked beans you enjoyed as a child seem one-dimensional. Illustrator seems delightfully powerful and nuanced in comparison to PowerPoint, once you’ve acquired the taste. Experiences do not always have to be simple to be wonderful.
  2. Mastery is rewarding. Being really good at something is one of the most rewarding experiences there is. It’s obvious – but it’s also “official.” Psychologist Mihayli Csikszentmihayli studied the phenomenon of Flow. Flow is a state of mind we all get into when we’re performing optimally, and it’s pretty much the thing that makes us the happiest we can be. Flow is achieved by knowing what your goal is, making concrete steps towards it, and stretching your talents and skills with each step. In other words, by attaining mastery.

So. For experiences we have just once, simplicity, clarity and easiness are essential.

But for experiences we choose to engage in again and again, there’s a deeper joy to be found in mastering complexity.

Which is is why I like CTRL-ALT-SHIFT-s. Thanks Adobe.

There are some good musings about complexity, simplicty and mastery in The Laws of Simplicty by John Maeda.

I read it recently. It’s so simple, I’m going to have to read it again. At least twice.

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