Across a wide range of technologies, there’s increasingly this tension between effort and quality. We want to minimize user effort and maximize quality of output, yet are we taking that too far?

Smartphone Cameras

This video by MKBHD elaborates on this point precisely. It’s synopsis is how automated software processing behind camera systems is what’s driving the differences between quality of smartphone photos, instead of raw physical specifications.

If every photo is given professional photo editing, I wouldn’t be surprised if smartphones with the best physical specifications would win in quality.

Perhaps nowadays people expect so little user-input and effort in photography that the burden on automation to do everything is often too great.

Word Processing

Consider Word vs LaTeX. Word automates everything to the extent that there’s little room for user-customisation. Word tries to make everything easy with WYSIWYG, yet it ends up making other types of automation like automated numbering or indexing more difficult. Word has “simpler” (i.e. automated) graphic placements / layout designs, yet any customised, specific changes would be highly difficult and could not compare with LaTeX.

Web Design

Consider making a website with Wix / Squarespace / WordPress vs with nuts and bolts (HTML and CSS). The former is quick, yet the result looks derivative and never seems to be exactly what you want. The later is labour-intensive yet promises extreme customisability.

Effort vs Complexity

Perhaps this graph sums it up the best. (Source)

Effort vs Complexity

While complexity isn’t exactly quality, I would argue that complexity is highly correlated with quality. “Simple” designs can be great but often they are the most complex as every variable in simple designs matters and needs customisation.


This is not to discredit automation or promote exclusivity in design. Lots of important tasks in the real world (online forms, spreading important information) are low complexity in terms of design and needs a solution that demands low effort.

Yet as the internet is becoming more homogeneous and uniform and filled with more and more bloat, I believe there’s an onus on those who can to put more effort in the things we put on to the internet.

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