The Simplicity Cycle
May 11, 2015
Dan Ward's Simplicity Cycle will act as your road map to the design process, whatever it is you have to design.
But, whether it's a painting, a meal, or an electronic device, adding too much almost always does just that. That is why those that are able to keep very complex things seemingly simple and elegant, whether it's a winemaker or technology company, are celebrated as "genius."
Sometimes elements need to be stripped away instead of added. Sometimes things need to be simplified and refined to become better. This is not an unusual point to make, of course, and it is almost a mantra of Silicon Valley and most other business environments these days.
What Dan Ward astutely reminds us in his new book, The Simplicity Cycle: A Field Guide to Making Things Better Without Making Them Worse, is that "Simplicity is not the point."
What is the point? In a word, goodness. Whether we are designing software or spacecraft, presentations or pizzas, the objective is to create something "good." Simplicity matters because it affects goodness, but it turns out that the relationship between simplicity and goodness does not follow a straight line. [...] So goodness matters more than simplicity, but the two attributes are connected in important ways. As we seek to make things "more gooder," it helps to recognize a few critical pivot points where activities that previously drove improvements begin to instead make things worse, where complexity becomes counterproductive, or where simplicity is inadequate. That's where this book comes in.
We live in a world of astounding, and seemingly always increasing, complexity. If you add to it, you will most likely be ignored for a seemingly simpler and easier-to-understand option. So, whatever you're building, whether it's an argument or an electronic device, you must make things seem simpler and belie any underlying complexity. That was the genius of the iPhone when it was launched (unlike the iTunes user agreement): it stripped down the interface of the phone and took away buttons instead of adding ever more for each new function—which had been the prevailing trend before that. Restraint had become a key component of making things better.
Ward's first book, F.I.R.E. How Fast, Inexpensive, Restrained, and Elegant Methods Ignite Innovation began the exploration of this phenomenon from operational, process, and project management standpoint, and The Simplicity Cycle takes this thinking a step further and applies it to the design of things—whatever it is your designing. It is, as he describes it, a "roadmap" to the design process. But...
As you read, keep in mind that the map is not the territory, and studying a map is no substitute for an actual expedition. The only way to really know what is out there is to go see it for yourself. If you choose to set out on an adventure, don't be surprised when you encounter bumps in the road, unexpected twists, and various landscape features that escaped the attention of your humble cartographer. But as you head out int unknown territory—and design is always unknown—it may be helpful to bring a map along and consult it from time to time. It may also be wise to spend some time with the map before the journey begins, to get an idea of how long the trip might be, what gear to pack, and what to expect along the way.
Whatever you design, "whether the thing is as ephemeral as an email or as enduring as a skyscraper," Ward's map will be a helpful companion on your journey.
We have 20 copies available.