What is simplicity?

How can you define something that is simple? Simplicity is indeed an abstract term.

Let’s have a look at some dictionaries, those works that since the 17th century have done an incredible effort of synthesizing all human experience, and see what they have to say about it.

It is terribly interesting to see that for the definition of something that is easy, man has only used terms that mean the opposite: effort, difficult, complex,…

What is simplicity?

By assembling the main concepts, simplicity is the skill of performing an action that raises no questions, difficulties or efforts.

It is clear that for the word simple to exist, we need to go through a series of objects whose attributes make it simple – or not.

If we apply this concept to our profession, we can say an interface is a series of graphical objects that form an entity with which users will work. And it will be this entity that will be considered simple – or not.

Since human behaviour is 95% non-conscious, simplicity will be evaluated based on:

  1. A skill that is 95% non-conscious
  2. An imposition to our mind that is 95% non-conscious
  3. A difficulty and/or effort that is 95% non-conscious

Non-consciousness, the automatic mode of our brain, makes cognitive activity lighter for us. As such, it is the basis of simplicity.

An efficient method is a procedure that assembles all graphical objects in such a way that users will perceive its use as simple and that generates behaviour that is based on the 95% of non-conscious activity of our brain.

5 Comments

  • I love it! An excellent reminder to UX designers everywhere.

    Something you may already have read (but I suspect not, since you would probably have mentioned it here), is Stephen Wolfram’s A New Kind of Science (http://www.wolframscience.com/nksonline/toc.html). He’s a mathematician who has developed a fundamentally different approach to science, by focusing on the simple “programming” rules underlying an apparently complex universe. In the book, Wolfram writes:

    “In everyday language, when we say that something seems complex what we typically mean is that we have not managed to find any simple description of it – or at least of those features of it in which we happen to be interested. But the goal of perception and analysis is precisely to find such descriptions, so when we say that something seems complex, what we are effectively saying is that our powers of perception and analysis have failed on it.”

    Independently, you seem to be suggesting that the goal of UX designers is to find the elegant & simple in the complex; that when we produce the unnecessarily complex, we fail. I think you’re right, and I’d take it even further, to apply that not only to interface design and desired user behavior, but also to underlying taxonomies and technology. Basic building blocks allow the development of the most adaptable, flexible, simple interface, one that can be focused at the heart of any given user need.

    Einstein pointed out in one of my favorite quotes, as both a support and a caution regarding Occam’s Razor: “Everything should be as simple as possible, but no simpler.” Thanks for reminding us 🙂

  • it was a simple beginning, god said ‘let there be light’, and there was light. the power of simple words, created the world we are living in, and it was done effortlessly. (subject to your believes of course)

    so if we just always remind ourselves of this, as UX designers, our goal should always be how to make things easier, simpler and accessible to all. Sometimes, just a bigger font will make people’s life much easier. so let’s start with that.

  • Couldn’t agree more. I’m so glad I found your blog! I think simplicity in all aspects of life is simply the way to go.

  • It is quite interesting that you brought two important terms together — simplicity and skill and linked them quite skillfully.

    To me ‘skill’ is a human ability that is performed with utmost ease.

    Therefore, simplicity would be something which most human beings would be able to understand, do or learn with utmost ease.

    Regards,
    Dibyendu

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