I have had a perfectly wonderful evening, but this wasn't it.

~ Groucho Marx ~

Simple Things

October 28th, 2013 ~ Est. reading time: 2 mins, 24 secs

Good designs work well and with a minimum of fuss.

Good designs work well and with a minimum of fuss.

Appreciating simple things makes life sweeter. So it’s a shame modern life is beset with so much that’s poorly designed.

Despite living in a time of rapidly advancing technology, simplicity still does it for me. I can engage at an emotional level with stuff that works, and value the beauty of simple surrounds. Whereas, a high tech, high gloss environment of hard edges and push button panels feels unforgiving to me.

Mind you, simple layouts can be complicated to achieve. Designing something clever and easy to use takes considered thinking. Creating it can take teams of designers and engineers many hours to achieve. Yet when something works brilliantly with minimal effort, it really feels like it has added something of lasting value to life.

By contrast, technology that’s unyielding and forces us to have to bend to accommodate it is grating. Items like remote controllers for TVs, for instance, are ridiculously complicated. Considering their key function is to turn a TV on and off, adjust the volume and change channels, many of the other controls could be made less prominent.

Remember trying to program video recorders? Well, even today we are still left guessing with microwave oven functions, fiddling with air-conditioner consoles, and setting our fancy cameras.

True, these may be First World gripes. Yet bad design affects everyone. Charities donating equipment to people in Third World Countries have excellent intentions. But if the gear is built to break within a few short years, it’s hardly worth using. Or, if the settings need complicated instructions that demand translation, it becomes totally impractical.

Simple design fits in with you. You can live with it easily and, if it’s really clever, you will be inspired by its cleverness.

What kinds of items have simple designs?  To me, anything that genuinely benefits us without causing too much hardship to use (or reuse when it has worn out) is good.  Items that make you a slave to them “powering down” before you can leave, or make you wade through layers of steps before you can do what you need are poorly conceived.

In an analog world you can rely on a pair of glasses that you slip on and they work. A cup comfortingly holds your drink. A good chair makes your home feel more inviting, irrespective of whether you are sitting on it or not.

Simplicity doesn’t imply we have to shy away from complex technologies. Just that they need to properly developed to be people friendly. Complicated equipment that requires head-scratching lessons to operate simply means the stuff hasn’t been properly finished in the first place.

Yet, we buy washing machines like that, dishwashers like that, ovens, sound systems, and a truckload of other stuff. All, bright and shiny, it’s true. But built to sell rather than to live with and use.

So be careful not to clutter your life with too much overly complex gear. Aim to simplify your life by getting items that work easily and well (so you don’t have to sideline as a computer technician, kitchen appliance scientist, or instruction manual translator).

Have less of what frustrates and instead choose things that work. That way, you will enjoy more of what you use, and sidestep the consumer crush restlessly queuing to get the latest and greatest. With simple, livable designs, it’s definitely easier to live well.

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