The beauty of simple tech

Of the many rules of software and product design, one that has been vastly ignored and conveniently misused is simplicity. Irrespective of whether you follow KISS (Keep it simple, stupid), YAGNI (You aren’t gonna need it) or Occam’s razor, some of the best designs that have stood the test of time are the ones that focused on simplicity. Yet, instead of being the first principle followed by every designer, it is one that is quickly finding its way to oblivion. Products now make deliberate attempts to do the opposite – to make aspects that are unfavorable to business and favorable to customers purposely complicated. Take for example, security settings. Instead of defaulting to maximum data security and making it easy or intuitive to navigate, almost every organization chooses to make it extremely complicated thus maximizing data availability for purposes unknown to the common man.

Imagine a world where user manuals never exceed a single page; a world where security settings were defaulted to maximum; a world where products are intuitive, easy to navigate and stress free. Wouldn’t that be wonderful? Not only would it increase product adoption, it would also bump up customer satisfaction and time spent with the product. Win-win. It is not difficult to imagine why Apple dominates the market with it’s simple tech.

Now take a look at most HR technology available to us. The differentiating factor, if any, lies in how many features can be stuffed into a single offering. Products are pushing the limits of complexity in the attempt to fool the user into believing that there lies greater value than there actually is. For you see, we as consumers tend to believe that if there is something about the system that isn’t obvious at the first try, it must definitely be smarter than we are and hence worth a test drive.

Complexity is a weak man’s crutch. The aim of technology is to eliminate friction and integrate itself into everyday life so seamlessly that you barely notice when it’s become an inseparable part. Good design draws upon minimum amount of conscious and cognitive effort. Are you wondering why your innovative recognition platform hasn’t taken off as expected or is showing declining adoption six months post launch? Begin to track points of friction and the amount of cognitive effort it takes. You will realize that with a singular focus on simplicity alone, your product begins to perform wonders.

However, the truth is that is it easier to design for complexity than simplicity. Keeping things simple isn’t easy. It takes immense cognitive effort, high skill levels, deep customer base understanding and strong design ethics to create products that are simple and work. As Antione de Saint-Exupery once said, “Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.” What is true of writing, speech and almost everything in life is also true for technology and product design.

So next time you build, spend 20% or more of your time right from the start to determine how you can make your offering just that much simpler.  

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