Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Simplicity is the New Black

There are a couple of people in the history of science that I think, as designers of software, we can learn a lot from.

In researching the pioneers of "simplicity of thought and design," the words of William of Ockham (c.1285-1349) are particularly important. Ockham, you may know, is the guy who brought us "Ockhams Razor."

Ockham's words on the topic break down to the following (after I'm sure many levels of intellectual and linguistic bastardization from its Latin to English translation):

"Given two equally predictive theories, choose the simpler."

In many ways, as designers of software and value offerings, we get caught up in the "cooler" thing, rather than the "simpler." Being a geek first (and wannabe usability-expert CEO second) I intuitively gravitate towards the cool solution. That'’s what makes my hair stand up on the back of my neck, what I'd like to have myself, not necessarily what users want or need.

Thankfully, I'm surrounded by folks who remind me that simpler solution is often the best solution. AND that keeping it simple often leads to "cooler" results, because the simple elegance of a great solution executed well can be very, very cool.

Which brings me to my second quote from Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519):

"Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication."

In this day and age great interoperable standards and web services, simplicity and focus are the ultimate weapon for a startup. By focusing on depth, rather than scope, and focus vs. functionality, you achieve great sophistication and results that just aren'’t had by trying to be all things to all people.

As the folks at 37Signals would tell you, "It's all about embracing constraints."

Without the constraints of a limited budget, a limited-size team, and a limited time constraint for product releases, I am sure we at BubbleShare would have never come up with a solution whose hallmark is simplicity and elegance--—at least that's what we are striving for in every release.

Lack of resources forces focus. Focus breeds simplicity. Simplicity creates sophistication. It's a sort of food chain of usability. A natural selection in software.

Conversely, abundant resources often create distractions, which often create complexity, which usually results in crappy products that are confusing, with way too many features that no one really cares about.

I think we've all experienced one or two of those in our life times. ;)

As my initial post in the blogosphere, it's my hope that the running theme of simplicity within this blog will remind me of the historical lessons of simplicity that I need to be mindful of -- that our entire industry should revisit now and again.

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