For designers – books, articles, debates, and inner wrangling typically influence opinions on what should be the way to approach when designing something that we intend to be usable, useful and most of all delightful.

To be fair I have struggled with this a lot myself, how do I really bring together principles I have learnt on design, aspects I admire in products around me and deal with my inner voice.

Let me pick a topic that really was troubling me for a while (and I couldn’t find an easy solution) – simplicity. What does simplicity really mean?

Without quoting articles and debates here, here is what I discovered/ propose.

never simple, nor (always) less

Designs are never simple – experiences can be simple. Conventionally we believe something is simple if everyone in the world including the creator considers it simple and the end result makes you fret – was it that easy?

Also a general paradigm is entertained that simplicity implies user has less options or ultimately have less functionality at disposal.

Confused? Here’s how I will prove it.

When the first television remote was introduced. It had just four buttons.

Over the years evolution added so many buttons to the poor remote that it became an example of bad usability, complexity and many other things.

https://www.metv.com/stories/a-history-of-the-television-remote-control-as-told-through-its-advertising

In recent times this changed – apple came back with a better construct and slowly more and more remotes are becoming less complex (simple).

So what’s the point? What apple remotes did was not cut functionality but transferred it to the screen. So while earlier you did so much in remotes – you did more of it by just selecting and hitting enter.

So simple is not less functionality, it is just a distribution of effort on the user vs. the system. It’s not less choices – choices are there but the user has to deal with less of them, potentially through a smarter, creative left and right brain on the creator side.

the journey to simplicity

how do you make things simple? without me prompting a set of principles, or a magic methodology.

  1. Learn more about the topic, the evolution that brought the expereince to its current stage. If we don’t get direct examples look at similar occurrences in other products, other walks of life. Bascially get more wholesome, holistic knowledge on the topic.
  2. Have a way to define what is simplicity? In the remote example provided above, simplicity might be a lot about, how many options that user has to deal with on the primary interface, it might mean other things for other experiences.
  3. Apply any design process or method that involves, discovery, multiple option, prioritisation and user research.

I hope you find this interesting, and help me uncover this more through feedback!

Designer with Experience in Healthcare, Life Sciences, Manufacturing, Supply Chain Management, Procurement domains.