Simplicity is something that many of us desire, but don’t always know how to create. In this article you will learn the 10 Steps to Simplicity. It will inspire you to start thinking about how you can apply it in your business.
In content strategy, systems can appear incredibly complex. But so can content creation. This is particularly the case if you are creating content for non-specialist consumers in a specialist area (such as Law). It can also be the case if your visitors just don’t understand what you do. Achieving simplicity can be a real challenge.
It doesn’t have to be: There are just ten laws of simplicity, and only one that you really need to remember.
Simplicity has laws?
Yes, it does. There is a fabulous book, The Laws of Simplicity, written by John Maeda. You can get a copy here. Sometimes the book itself is not exactly simple. That’s why we wrote this article for you: It’s short, snappy, and tells you how you can apply them right now.
The Laws of Simplicity apply to your content production. They are also extremely valuable when you apply them to the systems driving your information and content ecosystem.
Let’s have a look at what this might mean.
Don’t have time for 10? Remember just 1.
There are 10 laws in total — and only one you really need to understand. That is: Subtract the obvious, add the meaningful.
Knowing what is ‘meaningful’ requires you to ask a few questions. Those questions are :
- Who is the reader or consumer or audience?
- Why am I the best person to present it?
- What is the purpose of the communication?
The idea of ‘meaningful’ then becomes:
- meaning to the reader
- clarity of purpose
- a clear understanding about why you (of all people) are writing it.
The 10 Laws of Simplicity and how to apply them
Aside from the one law that it’s best to remember, there are another nine. You may not be able to use all of them all the time. Just introducing elements wherever you can will make your content efforts easier.
Get ride of any unnecessary complexity. This means to reduce industry-specific terms. Reduce the number of acronyms. Reduce the length of what you’re doing.
At a systems level, reduce the number of interactions, decisions, checkboxes. Reduce the number of fingers in the pie.
The less you have to do, the simpler it becomes.
If you can make many things feel like fewer things, you’re well on your way to simplicity. Organisation creates a feeling of simplicity.
How do you do this? Make things work for people in a way that is as intuitive as possible. Make your headings simple and logical. Organise your website to follow actual use (not what you imagine). Create a taxonomy that makes searching for things simple, easy, and intuitive.
At a systems level, ask if each part is in the best place, doing what it’s supposed to do. Is the sequence right? Is it organised around a default company organisation level? Or is it organised to capitalise on skill and capability?
Give people their time back. On a page-level, this means headings, white space, images: Create materials that feellike they are quick to read and quick to use.
At a systems level, the faster a process is to work through, the simpler it will appear.
We have all been in that situation where applying to have something done took forever: First you have to apply, then you have to wait, then a decision has to be made, and then you have to wait, and then the Board has to.… it’s probably all unnecessary. Not to mention, waiting around is one of the biggest business wastes of all.
You may be surprised to hear that the more knowledge you have, the simpler something appears.
If your business feels complicated to people, they are less likely to feel comfortable. This is not just about educating people, or teaching people. It’s also how your processes make people feel.
For example, if you’re in a law firm and your client matters take time, but you aren’t giving people visibility over what’s going on, they feel like it must be enormously complicated. If you give them visibility, checkpoints, regular communications, make them feel like they’re involved, that perceived complexity drops.
And internal to your organisation, if your staff doesn’t understand why something is a particular way, then they will immediately perceive that process to be more complicated. And when it’s complicated, you get resistance, anxiety and concern.
Knowledge is really powerful stuff. Sometimes we under-estimate just how powerful it can be.
5. Difference and variety
If you make everything simple, people get bored. If you make everything complex, people won’t start. The solution? Give people variety. Importantly, make sure that you have a good rhythm of the simple and the complex.
For example, you might have a short, well organised blog that doesn’t have any unnecessary complexity. When you introduce complex concepts, and explain them well, the the complexity itself appears to be reduced.
On the other hand, if you had a dense, text-heavy PDF without any headings, that looks long and difficult to read, the same material will feel more complicated straight away.
At a systems level, you can have complicated elements when you need them: Just don’t make simplicity the salvation. Make it part of the system so that the complicated parts are easier to deal with when they arise.
This law tells us that the environment, surroundings (context) of something are important. In creating simplicity, context is critical. Take a look at the visual impact of Medium: It’s clean, clear and… simple. The context of the site makes it feel easy to use.
Like with our PDF example above, surrounding elements have a huge impact on whether or not people see something as being simple. It’s for the same reason that people who don’t normally write struggle when faced with an empty page. There is so much possibility that it stops you from taking action.
Thinking about your systems, if you struggle with content production, just beginning is complex. You bring a lot of baggage to the action of ‘starting’.
Once you’ve started, the context of the production might become more important. Perhaps your environment isn’t right. Perhaps the person approving material isn’t the right person. Perhaps you’re not sure how to categorise something because there is an absence of rules. On the other end, there might be too many rules.
Being directionless can be just as bad as being micromanaged. Find out what you can about the environment that might be impacting on a perception of simplicity.
When it comes to simplicity, more emotions are better than fewer emotions. Or rather, making people feel comfortable is best, because when people feel comfortable they feel like things are simple.
This is why doctors with good bedside manners are better than doctors with none at all. And it’s the same reason why warm, inviting communications get better responses than cold, curt, business-like ones (in Australia, anyway).
Even at a systems level emotion is important. The optimal emotion you want to create in your business systems is that every step is meaningful. It’s a sense of real connection.
If you are asking people to do things just because you like them to do things, that’s a complexity you need to remove.
Introducing trust also introduces simplicity. Why? Because when we trust a brand, an object, a person, an environment, we relax. It removes fear and anxiety.
Trust is one reason why companies are freaking out about blogs and social media; about having a presence, being available, being ‘authentic’. You can’t paint authenticity on (because then you’re a charlatan) but you can help people to trust you by writing well, on topics that are meaningful, in an authoritative way.
Trust can also come from the fact that you have authority, that you are in a certain position, that you can demonstrate leadership. You might be able to demonstrate that you are a master, and are therefore someone to trust.
Your systems, especially your content and information systems, need to be trusted too.
If you create a system of information approval, then the users of that system must be able to trust that their work will be reviewed. Similarly, if you have a decision-making pathway, then your staff must be able to trust it. If they make a decision using the system, and then get told off, that trust (and its simplicity) will be immediately eliminated.
Perhaps an odd law, the law of failure tells us that sometimes simplicity is impossible.
Sometimes there is just no getting around the fact that collecting evidence to support a court case is difficult. Sometimes there is no getting around the fact that your company has 50 people contributing material to a content management system, and that this alone is a complexity that can’t be removed.
So what do you do? You go back to the other laws and find a way of introducing simplicity everywhere else. Just knowing that complexity is sometimes unavoidable can also make it feel simpler (remember Law 4: Learn, knowledge creates simplicity).
10. Subtract the obvious, add the meaningful.
And then we come back to the one critical law, which is to subtract obvious things and add meaningful things.
Creating simplicity isn’t difficult
What it requires, though, is mindful attention.
Simplicity is something for which we should all strive. It asks us to put ourselves in the shoes of our customers, readers, and staff members. It asks us to beware of those things we create because we want them.
Instead, it is a motivator in rethinking our content strategy, our social networks, the content and materials that we produce. And we can do it within those materials too, helping people to be more engaged with what we do just because it is simpler, easier to grasp, and easy to use.
If you liked this, download our ultimate 3‑step guide to better communications. It will help you approach content in a simpler way: Not to be perfect, just to be better. Get it here, it’s free »