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Insights :: Which ‘simple’ are you chasing?

by , March 8, 2013


Understanding the different types of simple…

Apple brought simple back. In a scary big way. Management books, marketing blogs, podcasts and tweets now urge us to simplify the message, simplify the product, and simplify our lives. Throughout the carry world, we see a return to simple times and naive forms, with simple patterns and little embellishment.

But I think the English language is kinda letting us down, because simple is actually quite different to Simple. I’ll get the late Steve Jobs to explain…

“When you start looking at a problem and it seems really simple, you don’t really understand the complexity of the problem. Then you get into the problem, and you see that it’s really complicated, and you come up with all these convoluted solutions. That’s sort of the middle, and that’s where most people stop….
But the really great person will keep on going and find the key, the underlying principle of the problem—and come up with an elegant, really beautiful solution that works. That’s what we wanted to do with Mac.”  Steve Jobs, from Insanely Great.

So you have simple before complexity, and then you have simple after complexity, and they are very different things.

Simple before complexity:

“For every complex problem, there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.” H.L. Mencken

This is the simple where you try and follow simple IKEA instructions, or try changing that simple tap washer. It makes you feel like Simple Simon. It’s also the simple where crap designers grab a generic bag form and slap a pig snout on it. There are no insights into how the user will interact with the format, what angles zips work best on, or how to nest contents without breaking them.

Insights :: Which ‘simple’ are you chasing?

Simple after complexity:

“If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.” Albert Einstein

An iPad is anything but simple, yet it has the appearance of simple. All the complexity is hidden behind a sealed case and layers of beautiful icons. This is the Simple that requires a deep understanding. But it’s much harder to do.

“You know how long it takes to do simple? About ten times longer than fast and dirty.” Paul Giambarba

To make an average bag, if you get the straps a bit wrong, then the sternum strap will help out. If you get the organizer pockets a bit wrong, then the side pockets can cover for them. But to make an awesomely Simple bag, each detail has to be right, because there’s not another detail to cover its ass.

“Make every detail perfect and limit the number of details to perfect” – Jack Dorsey

So with that idea of ‘simple’ in mind, how should we talk about simplicity at Carryology?
Perhaps we can differentiate with a simple capitalisation trick, like simple vs Simple? Or an analogous ‘presimple’ and ‘postsimple’? Or even an existing word like ‘elegance’ that we could substitute for our postsimple Simple?

Maybe we’ll just use the word sparingly for now, and slip in the odd capitalized Simple to see if you’re paying attention.

Happy days.

PS: John Maeda has a great book called The Laws Of Simplicity. He looks at tricks to achieve the appearance of simplicity through concepts like organization, context, and reduction. A good short read, with his major call out being:

“Simplicity is about subtracting the obvious, and adding the meaningful.” John Maeda

A variation on this post first appeared at Uncluttered White Spaces, a digital magazine exploring good ideas.



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