Keep It Simple, (Not So) Stupid

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Have you tried this? I mean really, sat down, tried to make something simple. Not simple for you, simple for others.

People always say they want simple. They go on and on about the last thing they had / did / bought and how complicated it was. And simple should cost less right?

When building software at Three Wise Men, we try to always focus initially on “the smallest possible thing that will work.” It gets us out the gate with something that we can build on as we discover what “simple” actually means for each client.

I think what people are actually asking for when they say “simple” is “intuitive”, which is very subjective. Intuition is born of a lifetime of experience. Luckily, we all live on the same rock so we should be able to draw upon some common themes.

Within a particular discipline, let’s take Software Development, our experience working with software is quite common. However I think it’s funny to use the inanely complex user interfaces and interactions of the past to make things easier for people moving forward. Take printing from Word Perfect. Just press F7. It’s simple – unless you’re not one of the diligent few who memorized the keyboard layout for Word Perfect. Yet, I hear people say things like “we should all just go back to Word Perfect, it was so much simpler.”

Step back and look at the vast majority of people’s interactions with their computer. They fight with it constantly. They do things out of frustration. Ok, well maybe we don’t all get physically violent but I bet you’ve flown the F sharp more than once if you spend any time around computers. Do we really want to build new interfaces on top of this legacy?

I think we’re still at the stage with computers (and electronics in general) where we’re inventing simplicity from scratch nearly every time. Sure, there are some individual lessons learned you can build from, but no big shiny strategy. Even Apple hasn’t seemed to keep up with their Human Interface Guidelines work, or maybe they’ve just stopped documenting it. Despite next to none of our applications being run on Apple’s OS X, I still use many good examples from that guide because they simply (no pun intended!) make sense.

I listened to this podcast the other day, and I think it sums up a lot. John Maeda does an excellent talk on simplicity and its complexity, and our seeming addiction to it. In fact, his book and web site are very much worth a look if you’re challenged to attain simplicity.

One more step forward 🙂

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