Thoughts on Simplicity

Of the people who know me well, I think most of them would say that if I were fanatical over anything it would be the basic act of simplicity.  It sounds a bit funny, who would want to make something more difficult, right?  But simplicity is far more difficult then just making something basic (or for that matter mediocre), it’s about a number of things.

Simplicity is about having a strong understanding of the people you are trying to assist in your desire to simplify.  Too often businesses seem to “simplify” processes for their own purpose, while making it much more difficult for their customers.  They don’t think about the benefits of simplification for those people using their products and services.  When was the last time you called the power, cable, or phone company only to be lead through a series of “press 1 now” circles thinking, “wow, this is really helpful to me”?  I can only imagine that you’ve never felt helped, but rather pushed away when reaching such a phone system.

As a programmer, I see simplicity in the foundations of our technologies.  Never have I heard from another developer, “I love this [programming] language, because it takes me so long to figure out how to solve a problem.”  Most of the developers I know select their preferred programming language because it follows a syntax their brain comprehends well and solves a problem effectively.  To them, it’s simple.

As a designer, I am reminded that simplicity is contextual.  Simplicity requires that you not forget your expert customers, allowing complexity when it might be needed.  It’s important that we consider balance in product design and in doing so we reduce the information we share with consumers to the most essential; by either its removal or by simply hiding it until it becomes essential.  Simplicity is partially the elimination of excess, as well as our effective use of emptiness and space to bring focus to the things that are important.  When was the last time you went to a website and didn’t know where to go to find what you were looking for, or spent 15 minutes trying to understand an online registration form?  It is about reducing the confusion and easing the minds of the people interacting with you.

Simplicity is about having a great understanding of the subject matter you are communicating, allowing you to speak of it concisely.  As a presenter and a writer, I find the more I speak or write about something, the less I need to say about it to share my point of vie.  Not that I know less, but simply I have a deeper understanding of the meaning behind the points I’m discussing.  Take the time to dig deeper into your area of expertise, know it from multiple angles.  It might just provide you with insight on how others view what you are communicating.

The next chance you get, think strongly about simplicity.  Whether it’s a new company policy, a new product, or maybe a new form you would like your clients to fill out.  Not just for your benefit, but for your clients, your employees, coworkers, vendors, and your family.  It just might change the way you see the world.