The Beauty of Simplicity

An article on simplicity in design in Fast Company..

To make it to the home page, a new service needs to be so compelling that it
will garner millions of page views per day. Contenders audition on the advanced-search page; if they prove their mettle–as image search did, growing from 700,000 page views daily to 2 million in two weeks–they may earn a permanent link. Few make the cut, and that’s fine. Google’s research shows that users remember just 7 to 10 services on rival sites. So Google offers a miserly six services on its home page. By contrast, MSN promotes more than 50, and Yahoo, over 60. And both sell advertising off their home pages; Google’s is a commercial-free zone.
So why don’t those sites simply hit the delete button and make their home pages more Googlesque? Hewing to the simplicity principle, it turns out, is tougher than connecting with tech support, particularly if you try it retrospectively. “Once you have a home page like our competitors’,” Mayer says, “paring it back to look like Google’s is impossible. You have too many stakeholders who feel they should be promoted on the home page.” (MSN says more than half its customers are happy with its home page–but it’s experimenting with a sleeker version called”)

My friend Gloria and I argued this all of the time at Lakeview Church. I favored a more Google approach and she favored a more MSN/Yahoo! approach. From this it looks like I was right and apparently petty enough to bring it up.

The article talks a bit about John Maeda

John Maeda runs the Media Lab’s Simplicity Consortium. His goal is to find ways to break free from the intimidating complexity of today’s technology and the frustration of information overload. He is a gentle, soft-spoken man, dressed elegantly in a crisp, white collarless shirt and black pants. And he is an unusual amalgam: having the mathematical wizardry of a computer geek with the soul of an artist. Indeed, in 1990, he left MIT for four years to study art. “My whole life changed,” he says. “I thought, This is a great way to live.” But rather than throwing over his digital life entirely, he conceived a mission. “I came back to MIT to figure out how you could combine simplicity, which is basic human life, with this thing–technology–that’s out of control.”

In his book, he asks the basic question. How simple can we make it and how complex does it have to be which is something I have been mulling over in regards to how we live life.

I am not alone is looking for something simpler. Again from the Fast Company article

Philips deployed researchers in seven countries, asking nearly 2,000 consumers to identify the biggest societal issue that the company should address. The response was loud and urgent. “Almost immediately, we hit on the notion of complexity and its relationship to human beings,” says Andrea Ragnetti, Philips’s chief marketing officer. Consumers told the researchers that they felt overwhelmed by the complexity of technology. Some 30% of home-networking products were returned because people couldn’t get them to work. Nearly 48% of people had put off buying a digital camera because they thought it would be too complicated.

It explains a bit of why I am using AbiWord for writing my book. It just allows me to write. If I really need a complex chart, Open Office is a couple clicks away and yes I know how to use all of its features but at times, I just want to communicate with words.

5 thoughts on “The Beauty of Simplicity”

  1. When I think back to when I was a child – things seemed much simpler. There wasn’t the amount of advertising and retail readily available (nor the amount of excess funds). In fact my whole family was on welfare.

    Now I have a great job, good income and everything is at my fingertips.

    I think now and back then we were all simply living within our means. When I was a kid there were also rich people, with materialistic lifestyles. There have been those type of people throughout the ages.

    There is very, very few people who would actually live a simple life if they have a lot of money. Why suffer if you don’t have too? Life throughout the ages dictates that we must be as comfortable as we can make it.

    The rich will always be more comfortable than the poor. To truly live a simpler life – one must get rid of their wealth and go into a survival mode. Then they would really be living simple.

    I think the problem is that we are not as simplistic with our money but rather we share what we have with those who have not. That’s how we truly bless others.

  2. It’s a bit of simplistic answer to say that because we have wealth, we need to spend it on being comfortable. Neal Postman writes a bit about this in Amusing Ourselves to Death, Putnam in “Bowling Alone” and of course Eugene Peterson has written extensively about accepting technology without considering its sociological consequences on our communities and social lives. Technology changes how we interact and while some is positive, much has been disruptive to our lives and has been negative.

    Maeda and others are trying to find that balance in technology

  3. You’re absolutely right that it’s a bit of a simplistic answer to say that because we have wealth, we need to spend it on being comfortable.

    That’s because it’s a very simple concept and it’s true.

    I can think of only a handful of people that when offered money would deny it’s power for convenience and comfort.

    One brief look into our own lives would tell us that no matter much we try to simplify that there is a line we draw for the comforts of life. And if we do draw that line of simplicity – it rarely never holds.

    The ONLY way to release the power of money and enter into simplicty is to give up money in the first place to live a life of hunger, thirst and poverty.

    Money corrupts easily. Even the rich live paycheque to paycheque. Why because we spend what we have (and in most cases – more). Just look at the average household debt.

    Our debt is a direct correlation to comfort/greed/uncontentment. Fact: North America culture doesn’t live simplisticly and never will unless they somehow go broke.

  4. Which is my point. Most people I know won’t walk away from money, power, and convenience but Scriptures call followers of Christ to do exactly that. Are we followers of Jesus or are we people who attend church.

  5. You’re absolutely right. Most of us (myself included) are swayed by convenience and prosperity. I often said it would be easier to be a Christian in Africa in the midst of poverty and pain then in the lap of luxury in North America.

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