“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” —Leonardo Da Vinci
Simplicity, by definition, is freedom from complexity; the absence of luxury or pretentiousness. Sophistication, on the other hand, often implies a sense of style, cultivated beauty and refinement. So is Da Vinci contradicting himself here?
On the contrary. I believe the ultimate level of sophistication happens when the refining process is so complete that there is truly nothing else to add and nothing else to take away; when the nature of a thing is perfectly represented and understood by its state and appearance. To behold it is to know and understand it.
This may seem overly philosophical, but as my co-author, Josh Porter, said recently, “Simplicity is much more than the trite “less is more” we so often hear. Simplicity is… about clarity.” And clarity comes from constant refinement.
John Maeda’s First Law of Simplicity states: The simplest way to achieve simplicity is through thoughtful reduction. Refinement that is thoughtful, calculated, and whenever possible and appropriate, based on data is one of the fundamental tools of any designer.
Anyone who occupies themselves with the task of creating truly usable products becomes instantly aware that achieving simplicity is not that simple. For any single feature in a product we must take into account the way it looks, the way it functions, its place in the overall system, affordances to help convey context of how and why it is to be used, as well as taking into account the motivation of the user.
Designers are in a constant process of weighing each decision against previous ones, against common conventions and against the user’s goals in order to create an interface, a product or a service that is clear in all its meaning and function. There is no denying the difficulty in this process. There is a delicate balance between the simplicity of use and the complexity of usefulness. But it is true the product that is clear in its purpose, elegant in its execution and simple in its use will set itself apart from the competition and endear itself to the user.
Designing for simplicity is a process of calculated refinement.