I wrote about simplicity last year in a posting based upon Paul Rand’s famous dictum: Simplicity is not the goal. It is the by-product of a good idea and modest expectations. I certainly believe Rand’s point still holds, but I’ve been drawn to this concept again, to unpack it further, more deeply as a rhetorical and humanistic, cultural issue of interaction design a la Buchanan/McCullough, etc.

At Interaction’09 in Vancouver, Dan Saffer almost exasperatedly admonished the audience to “stop fetishizing simplicity”, which partly explains why this concept has returned to my attention recently. What is simplicity really? Below are some early thoughts as I brainstorm on this topic:

– Simplicity innately has to deal with designing for rapid and facile sensemaking–the interpretation of meaning– which may lead to the generation of meaning in the engagement between a person and a product/service/system, which itself is heavily contextualized

– The presence of simplicity emerges in the course of a dialogue (visual, conceptual, physical, etc.) a flow of meaning from person to “the other”–whatever it may be

– There is a social or cultural dimension to the usage of products and services, call it brand-driven pressure or acceptance that makes something seem simple or assume the mantle of simplicity (ie, Apple products are branded as simple, easy to use…but in fact they’re quite complex, filled with hidden features, etc.)

– At a deep human level, I think “simplicity” is really about engendering a profound, instinctive quality of trust in the human user/participant of this product-driven dialogue…Once trust is gained or established, does that make the product seem simpler to operate?

– Following from ideas by Daniel Pink in his book on right-brained thinking, I wonder if stories, empathy, imagination, and a plain old common sense way of supporting people in their everyday activities cultivate a sense of simplicity?

I intend to explore this further with a former Adobe design colleague, and hopefully our discussions will result in a provocative and significant contribution to the design profession, in ACM Interactions namely :-) Stay tuned!