Simplicity

The more complicated something is, the more misunderstood it can be. The old US Navy acronym, KISS – “Keep it simple stupid” – has been one of my favorites since I first heard it. When I was active in web development, it was vital that complex things be kept as simple as possible.

In my first job out of college, one of the projects I spent the most time on was one where we had to take complicated business logic and make it simple to understand for our customer. From a developer stand point, things are always simple… when you designed it. Taking feedback, usually in the form of user testing, was vital, for our development team to understand the customer. But keeping it simple doesn’t only apply to web front-ends.

Several years ago, someone was speaking who leads worship for a large church and he had asked for questions. Someone in the audience asked what was the best advice for song writing. To my surprise, he said to keep it simple. He went on to talk about how some people want to push the boundaries, or make something you can’t easily understand or use some big words. It’s interesting how simplicity works in song writing, too.

I should probably say, keeping things simple has to always be in the eyes of who your audience is. In the first example, where I was working on a customer-facing site, what was simple for the customer would have been too simple, at times, for a customer service representative. Their needs were efficiency most times, while at other times doing much more complicated things that the customer couldn’t do on our site. The same can be said with song lyrics – I love a good song that’s high on symbolism. But, is that the goal in a corporate worship environment?

So, how to you reevaluate something and determine what’s too complicated? I don’t feel like there’s a straight answer to that, but some ideas, that’s I’ve done, would be:

  • Is what I’m trying to convey too wordy? What “fluff” doesn’t need to be there.
  • Is this really important that the user know?
  • How much time will this take my user to complete? Will the value they receive from it be worth it?
  • Is there too much information for the customer to evaluate? There’s a lot of research out there about how too much information causes someone to not make any decision.
  • Feedback from someone using something is always a plus. I mentioned earlier, we used user-testing, which always helped us narrow down things to work on simplifying.

There’s value in keeping things simple. For our customers, it was getting them what they were looking for without frustration. Our goal was to always make our site the easiest to use and navigate so people wouldn’t want to shop anywhere else. For the worship leader, it’s drawing people to Jesus and creating a moment. You can certainly reach those goals without being simple, but simplicity nurtures confidence.

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