Apple has brought simple back. In a scary big way.

Management books, marketing blogs, podcasts and tweets are urging us to simplify the message, simplify the product, and simplify our lives. But I think the English language is kinda letting us down, because simple is actually quite different to Simple. Here, let me get Steve Jobs to explain:

“When you start looking at a problem and it seems really simple, you don’t really understand the complexity of the problem. Then you get into the problem, and you see that it’s really complicated, and you come up with all these convoluted solutions. That’s sort of the middle, and that’s where most people stop….
But the really great person will keep on going and find the key, the underlying principle of the problem—and come up with an elegant, really beautiful solution that works. That’s what we wanted to do with Mac.”  Steve Jobs, from Insanely Great.

So you have simple before complexity, and then you have simple after complexity, and they are very different things.

Simple before complexity:

“For every complex problem, there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.” H.L. Mencken

This is the simple where you try and follow simple IKEA instructions, or try changing that simple tap washer. It makes you feel like Simple Simon.

Simple after complexity:

“If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.” Albert Einstein

An iPad is anything but simple, yet it has the appearance of simple. All the complexity is hidden behind a sealed case and layers of beautiful icons. This is the Simple that requires a deep understanding. But it’s much harder to do.

“You know how long it takes to do simple? About ten times longer than fast and dirty.” Paul Giambarba

So how should we differentiate these 2 simples?

Perhaps a simple capitalisation trick – simple vs Simple?

Or an analogous ‘presimple’ and ‘postsimple’?

Or is there even an existing word like ‘elegance’ that we could substitute for our postsimple simple. None of those are quite right, but I’m sure there is a good answer out there (suggestions?).

In the meantime, just pay a little more attention to the type of simple that the management book is sprouting, and you might avoid chasing your simple tail.

PS: John Maeda has a great book called The Laws Of Simplicity. He looks at tricks to achieve the appearance of simplicity through concepts like organisation, context, and reduction. A good short read, with his major call out being:

“Simplicity is about subtracting the obvious, and adding the meaningful.” John Maeda