Advanced Computing in the Age of AI | Saturday, December 9, 2023

The Pros and Cons of Software Simplication 

Should design software be simplified to promote ease of use, or do software complexities provide a barrier against incompetence?

The debate over the democratization of engineering software is especially relevant to anyone with a stake in digital manufacturing. Should simulation and analysis software be simplified to promote ease of use, or do software complexities, including domain-specific terminology, act as a gatekeeper against incompetence? In an interview with Design and Motion, Bob Williams, product marketing manager for Autodesk Simulation, brings some fresh perspective to this long-standing debate.

Author John Evans lays out the two sides thusly:

1. Simplifying the software (and making it more accessible) for anyone to use puts dangerous power into the hands of idiots.

2. Purposefully keeping the software difficult for the sake of having an idiot buffer is terribly counterproductive.

As Evans points out, the results of any computational process are only as good as the preparation and furthermore, qualified analysts are able to recognize suspicious behavior.

Autodesk's Bob WilliamsBob Williams take on democratization is that there is an optimum level of simplicity or complexity for each stage in the design process. He states: "it's really more of a focus on 'what is the right level of simulation to be used at a given time in the product development process?' It is not about making every simulation feature available to every single user."

Properly designed software maximizes the skills of an analyst, according to Williams. "We just don't accept the fact that this stuff has to be hard to use or difficult to navigate," he says. "An analysts' value is not in figuring out how to click buttons in a complicated user interface, an analysts' value is in being able to apply their knowledge into appropriate inputs and parameters, and more importantly, properly evaluating the output from a simulation and determining what that means and what changes need to be made because of it. That's the value of an analyst, and the faster you can let an analyst get to that activity, the more valuable they are."

In his closing words, Williams urges developers to "Think about the product design process."

"It's all about trying to determine directions that you can go," he says. "It's a logical flow and what happens in a best-in-class product development process."