Simple design

Friday afternoon at work, I facilitated a little salon where we tried to define what “simplicity” means in design.

Because I was facilitating, and it is bad form for facilitators to fight with participants, I had to keep my strong opinions to myself (which is probably exactly why they asked me to facilitate rather than participate).

But, of course, I did have uncomfortably strong opinions, and they had to do mostly with my own compulsion to simplify what we were saying about simplicity.

So here is my distillation, in the simplest terms possible, of how I think of design simplicity:


A design is simple when it is experienced by someone as having the following qualities:

  1. Everything relevant is included.
  2. Nothing irrelevant is included.
  3. It is conceived as systematic: all relationships among parts and within the whole are clear. 
  4. It is perceived as a whole: the entire system is experienced spontaneously as a single unit. 
  5. Its relevance as a whole is immediately obvious. 

1 thought on “Simple design

  1. That’s nicely put. For larger things, a big part of simplicity is the process of learning, “learnability”/”discoverability”, and the continued feeling of coherence as you discover more parts of the design.

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