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Why Designing Simple Solutions Is so Complicated

3 minute read
David Blankley avatar

Recently I’ve been reflecting on why it’s so difficult to develop simple solutions — simple in the context of helping our users, clients and customers easily process, understand and engage with our message.

What are the barriers to simple? Are there strategies we can employ to get there faster?

Our Brains Reward Complexity

As human beings, we are hardwired to pursue MORE. We want the new feature, widget, tool, shiny thing. Our brains are great at tracking, processing, and keeping score of this. Simple, however, often involves taking something away, and once gone, it is forgotten. Consequently, it is easy to lose track of the benefits and progress being made.

To counter the “more” effect try keeping a list of every simplifier. For me, this serves two purposes. It helps me appreciate the progress that I have made. It empowers me to see connections, common threads, themes and strategies that lead to success. Don’t be surprised if you see multiple iterations on the same topic, each time making the rough edges a little smoother.

Objects in the Mirror Are Closer Than They Appear

Problems are harder to solve than they first appear. Especially big problems. Our brains tend to approach problems with “perfect math.” We forget the meetings we have to attend, the planning, the help we provide others, the things that break down, miscommunications and general pain of entropy. Even when we force ourselves to be aware of this challenge, we can fail.

To me, this is the greatest benefit of agile methods. The more granular we are in our tasks, the better able we are to estimate the time needed. There are two effects in play that improve our performance.

Learning Opportunities

The first is smaller tasks are naturally lower in complexity, so less can go wrong. The second is experience. The smaller the task, the more likely it is to look the same as another task we completed recently, giving us clear data on the true time cost.

Simple Takes Perseverance

To me this was most eloquently stated by Blaise Pascal: “I would have written a shorter letter, but I did not have the time.”

Clarity of communication. Optimization of processes. Finding that perfect analogy that everyone just “gets.” These come from practicing our craft. Not being satisfied with good, but striving for great and then awesome. It takes experimentation. A willingness to fail.

As German poet and philosopher Friedrich Von Schiller wrote, “Only those who have the patience to do simple things perfectly will acquire the skills to do difficult things easily.” 

About the author

David Blankley

David Blankley is a Founder at Lighthouse Data Holdings, a startup focused on creating experiences that unique data sets that help solve hard problems in machine learning. Their first product, Image Improv, is available on the app store now.

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