The flexibility–usability tradeoff is a design principle maintaining that, as the flexibility of a system increases, its usability decreases. The tradeoff exists because accommodating flexibility requires satisfying a larger set of requirements, which results in complexity and usability compromises.
Design theory maintains that over their lifecycle, systems shift from supporting multiple uses inefficiently, towards efficiently supporting a single use as users' needs become more defined and better understood, both by themselves and designers.
When weighting the relative importance of flexibility versus usability, designers are advised to consider how well the needs of the user are understood. If user needs are well understood, designers should bias toward simple less-flexible systems. Otherwise, designers should create flexible designs that support multiple future applications.
- Steinebach, Gerhard, and Subhrajit Guhathakurta, Hans Hagen (2009). Visualizing Sustainable Planning. Springer. p. 256. ISBN 3540882022.
- Lidwell, William, and Kritina Holden, Jill Butler (2010). Universal Principles of Design, Revised and Updated: 125 Ways to Enhance Usability, Influence Perception, Increase Appeal, Make Better Design Decisions, and Teach through Design. London: Rockport Publishers. pp. 102–103. ISBN 1592535879.