Simplicity is Hard to Build

“Simplicity is hard to build, easy to use, and hard to charge for. Complexity is easy to build, hard to use and easy to charge for.” ~Chris Sacca, Investor

Chris Sacca knows a thing or two about business. As a former Google employee turned Silicon Valley venture investor with capitals in Twitter and Uber, he is known for stating that, “simplicity is hard to build, easy to use, and hard to charge for. Complexity is easy to build, hard to use and easy to charge for.”

Not only is simplicity hard to build and charge for, it is what we all take for granted and want more of. When great products seamlessly enter our lives, we integrate them with ease. It is what defines well-designed websites, hand soap, toothbrushes, paper clips, electronic devices etc etc.

They enhance the user experience by amalgamating the essence of the task with thoughtfulness. The product integrates into its setting so pleasantly, as if it were there all along. The user unknowingly calls forth the product. It then guides him to complete a task with grace and comfort.

According to John Maeda’s “The Laws of Simplicity“, comfort often means saving time (Law 3). A user perceives time reduction in many cases, as simpler. In reality, he has been given the chance to use the extra time for something else. Maeda gives the example of shortening a commute that amounts to extra time with loved ones, which ultimately enhances a person’s wellbeing. In the case of overnight deliveries, they allow a sooner product arrival, which also increase the customer’s satisfaction level and bring about joy.

A simple product must fundamentally embody the user’s intent. Products that come fast serve their purpose. But while time reduction can sometimes translate to a simpler user experience, time merely denotes one dimension of our experience. In order to develop a simple product that elutes a user’s effort, the creator must understand what to take away. And as the chef design officer at Apple said, “to be truly simple, you have to go really deep” (Isaacson, W. 2011 Steve Jobs).

Steve Jobs was known to have cared deeply about his products this way. Both the external appearance and the intrinsic arrangements were essential to the whole. He understood that superior products do not distract, instead they add value. He knew how to connect a consumer’s need with what the product ultimately offers. And he arranged the products from the inside out even though most consumers would never see a product’s interior. He fully embraced wholistic simplicity and his products do not even entertain fuss and clutter. In the end, users are invited to an easeful focus that brings about clarity of usage.

Maeda gives the example of the iPod as the quintessential simple product that combines “blurred grouping” and function organization (Law of Simplicity Number 2). Although users may not instinctively know how to operation the product, it generally does not take long for them to become familiar. Such product’s grouping boundaries are “blurred” which according to Maeda, allows the abstract aesthetics to shine through. And when a consumer looks at a simple iPod, it is easy to overlook its value. In truth, layers of interpretations and knowledge are required to create an extraordinary simple product. Compared to a “complicated” product with “bells and whistles”, where a consumer can easily become “hooked”, a simple product’s value lies in the skillful deciphering of the its true essence, i. e. the depth of what the product is and why it exists.

In order for a product to remain authentic while focused on delivering its genuine usefulness, its creator must not only stay curious but also loyal to the conviction of its success. How do we all, create such innate efficiency and fluid simplicity?

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