The Goal of Simplicity
Whether it’s design or instructions, we want things simple—not too simple to the point of insulting, but not too complex and thus confusing. What starts as an admirable goal – simplicity – is actually not a simple subject.
Dan Ward’s latest book, The Simplicity Cycle: A Field Guide To Making Things Better Without Making Them Worse, aims to help people make good decisions about complexity. After retiring as a Lieutenant Colonel from the US Air Force where he served for 20 years as an acquisition officer, Dan launched his own consulting firm. I recently had the opportunity to talk with Dan about the not-so-simple subject of simplicity.
Why Simplicity Matters
Define simplicity and tell us why it’s so important and a passion for you.
Simplicity is an ironically complex topic, and it means different things in different contexts. In a general sense, something is simple when it does not have a lot of interconnected parts. Of course, the definition of “a lot” changes depending on whether we’re talking about a spacecraft or a pencil sharpener. I write about both of those.
“Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated.” -Confucius
Simplicity matters because it has such a big effect on us, our technologies, and our ability to communicate. When it’s done well, simplicity makes communication clearer. It makes our technologies easier to use and more reliable. But when it’s done badly, simplicity can actually make things more confusing and harder to use, so it’s important to figure out how to do it well. Ultimately, that’s the point of the book.