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Embracing Simplicity

February 1, 2022

When I visit Spain, the first thing I do each morning is I go for a walk to a local cafe to grab my morning coffee. The cafe con leche is one of my favourite drinks. It is a beautiful simple drink, consisting of coffee with milk (the hint is in the name). But it is a delicious drink all the same.

How can just two ingredients create such a wonderful experience?

The art and craft went into bringing those two ingredients to life. Two simple things but executed at such a high level result in a delicious experience. Something that I keep coming back and asking for more.

This amazingly executed simplicity is more often than not missed or ignored when we create digital experiences. But why is that?

“Making the simple complicated is commonplace; making the complicated simple, awesomely simple, that’s creativity.” —Charles Mingus

Too many of us believe in the mantra that more is better. I believe less is better - something I believe in all aspects of life, but that can be another story. See, removing all the fluff means that you genuinely have to put energy into the little and how you can maximise it. You have to limit your choices to maximise them.

I’m not advocating for the boring, but in fact, I’m calling for the opposite. I firmly believe that having simplicity at the core of the experience will result in more enjoyable products. Keeping it simple allows you to add moments of delight, too, as you’re not bogged down with all the bullshit of having x y and z in your product.

Think about all the great products/companies that created simple experiences. Google being one of the most significant examples of this, it started out as a search engine. This super-simple search box revolutionised the way we searched for content.

The 2003 version of the Google Search Page
2003 version of the Google Search Page

And there are tons of other examples of simplicity being the centrepiece to creating beautiful experiences.

Massimo Vignelli was a true master of simplicity. His designs exhibited the simple use of typography, layout, contrast, etc. He believed that you only needed a few basic typefaces. He didn’t argue for more. And yet his work is purely excellent and will be loved for many years to come.

“In the new computer age, the proliferation of typefaces and type manipulations represents a new level of visual pollution threatening our culture. Out of thousands of typefaces, all we need are a few basic ones, and trash the rest.” —Massimo Vignelli

Jack White’s obsession with the number 3 and the fascinating power of limiting your options are another example of the power of simplicity. He used this across his album art, songwriting, and so on. The video below explains it better than I could ever.

The first iPod didn’t have more features than competitor products. It had a simple aesthetic and was easy to use. Simplicity gave it an advantage over the competitors. And it came charged so people could start listening to music instantly. Simple idea.

The original ad for the iPod
The original ad for the iPod
“Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.” —Steve Jobs

Even the US Navy realised that “keeping things simple, stupid” (or KISS) improves systems. Since most systems work best if they are simple.

The list literally goes on…

You see, you don’t need to always need to keep adding features. Likewise, you don’t always need to use the newest, shiniest technology — it can be fun to do that, but it is not always required.

So for your next project, try to do the following:

  1. Stop saying yes to adding new features.
  2. Think of what can be removed instead of what can be added.
  3. Try to focus more on what can be perfected in the experience.

Perfecting the simple things is what makes a great experience stand out. And the big thing that most people don’t get is that the art of creating a truly remarkable experience is removing everything other than the core.

If you liked this article, you would definitely enjoy the article that Luke Wrobelski wrote a few years back about simplicity, which is much better than what I wrote above. Give it a read.

And when in Spain, drink a cafe con leche!

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