The KISS Principle

Image created with Midjourney. Image prompt:
Image created with Midjourney. Image prompt: An airplane engineer passing a set of simple tools to a team of designers, surrounded by the blueprint of a complex aircraft. The airplane is broken down into simpler, easy-to-repair parts. The phrase 'Keep it Simple, Stupid' hovers in the air.

Keep it simple, stupid

Simplicity is the Key

In the world of digital product design and development, the KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid) principle is a valuable guidepost to keep in mind. This principle, originating in the U.S. Navy in the 1960s and attributed to aircraft engineer Kelly Johnson, states that most systems work best if they are kept simple rather than made complicated. Unnecessary complexity should be avoided, and simplicity should be a key goal in design1.

User Interfaces

Consider the design of user interfaces. In digital products, a simple, intuitive interface often leads to a better user experience than a complex one. Take, for example, the design of Google's search engine. It is incredibly simple: a logo, a search bar, and two buttons. This simplicity does not hinder the user's experience but enhances it. The user isn't overwhelmed with options, and the main function of the platform—searching the web—is immediately clear.

Code Complexity

In software development, the KISS principle is critical when writing code. Code that is simple and concise is easier to read, understand, and maintain. For example, Netflix's engineering team uses a principle they call "Keep it simple and straightforward" (also KISS) when creating their microservices. This approach focuses on making each microservice do one thing and do it well, reducing complexity and making the system more manageable.

Product Features

When developing a digital product, it's tempting to add as many features as possible to impress users. However, too many features can lead to a cluttered and confusing product. A product that follows the KISS principle will focus on core functionality and make those features as simple and user-friendly as possible. For instance, the note-taking app Simplenote focuses on providing a clean, distraction-free note-taking experience. Instead of packing in countless features, it focuses on doing one thing—note-taking—and does it extremely well.

The KISS principle is not about dumbing down or reducing quality. It's about understanding the relationship between the way things break and the sophistication of the tools available to repair them, as Kelly Johnson illustrated with his aircraft design challenge1. In the context of digital products, it means developing systems that are robust, efficient, and manageable, while delivering a seamless and enjoyable user experience. By keeping it simple, we can create products that truly meet user needs without unnecessary complexity.