English is my second language and I am in the field of Software Engineering.

I am working on a design and I need to explain my idea to non-technical business stakeholders.

Conceptually, my idea is based on the "Rube Goldberg machine" explained below (not physically, just conceptually)


I've noticed many educated native English speakers have never heard of the term "Rube Goldberg machine". Is the term supposed to be well known among English speakers? If not, what is a better term that conveys the idea to non-engineer business stakeholders?

  • 1
    We need more context about the thing that you're trying to explain to help you find an alternative way to explain it. It would surprise me if even 5% of Americans know what a Rube Goldberg machine is.
    – cruthers
    Commented Oct 3, 2022 at 3:24
  • 1
    Do you need just a single term, or do you have time to actually explain it? There's nothing else like a Rube Goldberg machine, so there's no other simple terms to talk about one. You'd have to actually describe what a Rube Goldberg machine really is
    – gotube
    Commented Oct 3, 2022 at 6:02

2 Answers 2


You can use "needlessly complicated" or "over-engineered" (Collins Dictionary). Example sentences from Collins Dictionary.

The introduction of rules to put a floor under alcohol prices risks being needlessly complicated.

It was also needlessly complicated.

After he introduced a 60 per cent price hike and turned a popular, easy-to-use service into a needlessly complicated one, 800,000 customers took their money elsewhere.

This must be one of the most over-engineered bikes ever made.

The product was beautiful but, given its purpose, it was massively over-engineered.

You can also use "baroque"

Baroque, (Wiktionary):One of the meanings is "Notably complicated; overly and needlessly complicated; (usually, especially) in a bad way, not a good or neutral way".

grotesquely baroque bureaucratic hassles

baroque bookkeeping in pursuit of tax dodges

You may also use "Convoluted" (Collins Dictionary)

Convoluted: If you describe a sentence, idea, or system as convoluted, you mean that it is complicated and difficult to understand.

Blame a convoluted planning system and the highest construction costs in the world.

It is an extremely convoluted process that will be unpopular with those who have to make it work.

  • I agree with the rest, but I'm not sure about 'over-engineered'. It doesn't mean too complicated, it's more that it's designed to higher spec than strictly necessary. One could describe the UK 13A mains plug as over-engineered [it is, for sure, but it's still pretty simple & cheap to manufacture. Its safety-record is second to none]. Commented Oct 3, 2022 at 10:59

Not everybody will know the term. It may depend on their nationality, even amongst native English speakers.

Culturally, what would be termed Rube Goldberg in the US would be called Heath Robinson in the UK. Heath Robinson pre-dates Rube Goldberg by a couple of decades & so the Brits never really caught on to Goldberg in the same way as the US.

Younger natives may not know either of these. A more modern equivalent might be Wallace & Gromit, though Wallace's machines are more usually termed 'contraptions'… or even Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, where inventor Caractacus Potts builds similar devices.
It would be rude to leave out a later exponent of this type of absurd device, but it seems even fewer people remember Rowland Emett, who not just drew but actually built many of these. He designed & built the ones used in the Chitty Chitty Bang Bang movie.

  • I distinctly remember Rowland Emmett's Featherstone-Kite Openwork Basketweave Gentleman’s Flying Machine (Mark One) which was featured on a BBC news show when I was 12. Commented Oct 3, 2022 at 8:45
  • @MichaelHarvey - Wow! That very model was permanently installed in the Merrion Centre, Leeds, for years & years, from when I was a small child in the 60s. It used to be under the clock & activate on the chimes… & I've just discovered it's back again - merrioncentre.co.uk/news/emett-machines-2020 [Ah, it's the mark two… but close enough for me to consider it a marvellous coincidence anyway.] ;) Commented Oct 3, 2022 at 8:53
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    This helped me. I am learning that I should avoid using the term "Rube Goldberg machine".
    – Allan Xu
    Commented Oct 3, 2022 at 16:45

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