Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated – Confucius

In my last blog, I talked about service transformation to change IT into a business enabler. The first step to transformation is a strategy followed by the equally fundamental process of design. Design is the delicate bridge between the abstract and the concrete, existence and non-existence. Between ‘what-can-be’ and ‘what-is’.

Clunky user interfaces, applications with never ending series of menu options and cumbersome navigation screens that we have had to endure in the past were the result of bad design – designs where the emphasis was more on demonstrating technological prowess by well meaning engineers and not necessarily on usability and user experience. Users started developing a love-hate relationship with their computer. Confused and bewildered by complex layouts, redundant information, disruptive errors and screens with unnecessary options, exasperated users would often ask – “Why doesn’t my IT just work for me?”

However, we have seen a welcome change in design in the past few years. Google was one of the pioneers of developing a clean, clutter free user experience. The Google homepage offers you only what you want not what Google assumes you would want or what Google thinks you may need. The result is an amazingly simple but powerful website.
These are some of the popular search engines from the late 90s.

And then, Google came along.

Apple is another organisation that has pioneered simplicity, especially in the development of phone and tablet devices. When I first started using PDAs, I had to use a small stylus to aim and tap on the “Start” option to get to a list which had a phone option. Now I just use my finger to swipe and tap on a green icon. This is KISS in action.

KISS means – “Keep it simple, stupid”. Originally, adopted by the U.S. Navy, the fundamental principle behind KISS is “that most systems work best if they are kept simple rather than made complex; therefore simplicity should be a key goal in design and unnecessary complexity should be avoided.”

My own experience with service and product design confirms that the most successful products and services are not necessarily the ones that offer the most options, but the ones that are the simplest with their focus on what their original need is.

I have been lucky to be part of an innovative product called SH2 – a tablet app that helps resource and engineering organisations better communicate and manage safety and performance. When this product was designed, our focus was always – how can we use this app to enable frontline operators to have a conversation about safety and performance. Our focus was not how could we offer workers more data, pretty graphs and statistics. We could not have expected a better result when we implemented the App onsite.

KISS is a principle that we will see being applied more and more in the coming years as modern society adjusts from the rampant excesses of previous decades to simplicity and minimalism.

KISS as a design principle can be applied to all facets of life as long as a few basic tenets are followed:

  1. Have a thorough understanding of your design purpose. You will get this right if your strategy is on the right track. Nothing produces uglier designs than a distorted sense of purpose.
  2. Be ruthless to stay true to your original purpose. Google used to have a scoring system to review any proposed new design idea or user interface. The scoring system worked by assigning a point for each change in type style, type size, or colour. They used to add up the points and the maximum allowed for a proposed change was three points.
  3. Put in place a DMP (Distraction-Management-Plan). As we design the second version of the SH2 app, we are continually being distracted by the possibilities and powers inherent in the latest and greatest in mobile and tablet technology. Whilst it is tempting to be able to offer so much more to our user base, we cannot KISS it if we do not work through the distractions. To this end, we have a designated facilitator for our design and planning workshops. It is the facilitator’s job, whilst the rest of the team immerses themselves with design ideas, to keep us distraction free and ensure that any new design idea relates back to our vision and purpose. You will not be surprised to know Steve Jobs’ view on Design – “You’ve got to say no, no, no.”
  4. Do not compromise on value. Simplicity in design does not equate to an inferior product. Google does not run an inferior engine to be simple neither does Apple. SH2, for all its simplicity in design, is driven by one of the most powerful tablet and web programming engines. Simplicity is about harnessing the power of the underlying idea (read system, process or service) and channeling it through to the end-user in the simplest way possible. Apple Design Head Jony Ive says, “True simplicity is derived from so much more than just the absence of clutter and ornamentation. It’s about bringing order to complexity.”
  5. Find a framework that will help you implement simplicity in everything you do. It is easy to adopt an idea but as we all know, it is far more challenging to implement and sustain it. The easiest way to implement something, be it at a personal or professional level, is to find a framework that works for you. And this might take some trial and error. There is no one size fits all. We have found that the Agile process, with its focus on problem clarification and collaborative work, to suit our design and development needs the most.

Design is the window to the application of desire. Knowingly or unknowingly, you have been a designer all your life – be it at a personal level or at a professional one. The next time you are trying to find a solution to a problem, KISS it. You may be surprised!