The Complexity of ‘Simple’

Simplicity

You can see signs of it wherever you look. When was the “small house movement” ever so big? When was the last time you saw so many books on the virtues of living a simple life? Why is practicing “mindfulness” so prevalent? The truth is that life is full of clutter, physical clutter in our homes and mental clutter in the form of the many tasks and responsibilities we tackle daily. Now more than ever in this day and age of multi-tasking and technological “solutions” for every task, we need simplicity. We need simplicity in our physical spaces, in our intellectual routines, and in our technology.

Let’s Get to The Point

But simplicity is not easy to achieve. It actually takes real effort to chisel and cut through to the lifeblood, if you will, of the matter. The famous American author Mark Twain once wrote: “I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.” How true. This concept could apply to design in technology as well. When considering a program’s design, the key questions should be: What is the program’s essential functionality and how can the client make use of it in the most direct, intuitive way possible? Delivering a software program that gets this right is really the only goal that matters.

Making it Easy

There are a lot of software companies out there. Many strive to be like the prototypical Apple device, the one tool that does just about everything you could think of and then something else as well. But let’s not forget that Steve Jobs labored with simplicity as the end goal. The prototypical Apple user interface is masterful because the intuitive commands demand no effort. Jobs wanted his device to be an extension of the user, allowing the client to do what she wants to do with minimal thought. Do you want to sketch out your idea? Apple’s drafting tool becomes an extension of your hand, offering the ability to spontaneously think, draw and create.

Sift and Winnow your Way to the Essential

Project management software marvel Basecamp goes by a philosophy that is spot on. The program’s necessary elements are key, but as Basecamp’s website points out, “we even carefully considered what to leave out (emphasis added).” Basecamp refers to the nonessential as “bloat.” Why put in an additional feature, the reasoning goes, if by adding the feature you don’t make the experience easier for your client or get him closer to his goal?

Here at CivilGEO I am routinely asked by clients to put in particular features. Following thorough analysis by our team, features that add to the software’s main purpose are worked into the user interface; others that are likely to muddle things are not. (A future blog post will explore our process in more detail.)

The Final Product Tells All

Are companies using this argument to justify doing less, rather than more? Look to the product for your answer.

  • Does the software perform the essential functions with clean lines and minimal clutter?
  • Does the program do most of the thinking for you, practically anticipating your needs?
  • Do you navigate your way through the program effortlessly, with little need for technical assistance?

Then the answer is clear: one aspect of your life, at least, is simplified. The software’s core mission has been achieved; Life just got better.

About the Author Chris Maeder

Chris Maeder

Chris is an experienced civil engineering and software technology leader, with over 30 years industry experience. With proven expertise in global software development, he has built engineering teams that adapt quickly, focus on what’s important and, most importantly, deliver. He is a licensed professional civil engineer with extensive experience in water resource engineering. He has performed and supervised engineering projects in urban stormwater drainage, transportation and roadway drainage, storm sewer design, detention pond design, stormwater quality, green infrastructure, watershed management planning, wastewater sewers, water distribution networks, pump stations, FEMA flood studies, bridge and culvert design, bridge scour and armoring, dam failure analysis, seepage and groundwater modeling, and environmental permits.