When talking about the pursuit of simplicity, there tends to be at least one naysayer. “That’s fine for you, but my problem is, at it’s essence, complicated.” The conversation then shifts to unearth how this person is failing to simplify his product. I think the “…but my problem…” part is a smell that the goal is a touch oversimplified.
Shooting for simple is an admirable goal. It’s not unlike recommending people stick to Helvetica, when in doubt. It’s a fine default strategy if you don’t have a compelling reason to do something else. It’s not, a one size fits all solution.
Case in point: puzzles
I like solving puzzles. What is a puzzle? Whether jigsaw or crossword, all puzzles share at least one thing in common. Someone worked rather hard to make a relatively mundane task far more difficult to achieve. That’s what makes them fun.
I think what people are really talking about, really trying to achieve, is clarity. Here’s the rub: simple things are easier to explain clearly. If you can make something simpler, clarity tends to follow. This can make the distinction tricky. It’s important to realize the difference when you’re asked to tackle a problem that is inherently complex. It’s not a design failure if you can’t make a complex thing simple. It is, however if you can’t explain it clearly.
Design is hard
Design is more than regurgitating Jakob Nielsen soundbites. Appropriate solutions are found when context has been taken into consideration. Sometimes, it’s complicated… and that’s what makes it fun.