KISS – Keep It Simple Keep It Stupid!

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KISS (Keep it Simple, Stupid) – A Design Principle

It was Albert Einstein who said; “If you can’t explain it, you don’t understand it well enough.” Though it is often mis-reported as being; “If you can’t explain it to a six year old, you don’t understand it well enough.” What Einstein was driving at was a particular application of “keep it simple, stupid”.

From scientific concepts to products the end-user doesn’t care how clever the creator or designer of something is. They care about being able to take that person’s output and make it useful to their own lives. The simpler the explanation and the simpler the product, the more likely it is that the output will be useful to others.

The phrase; “keep it simple, stupid” is thought to have been coined by the late Kelly Johnson, who was the lead engineer at the Lockheed Skunk Works (a place responsible for the S-71 Blackbird spy plane amongst many other notable achievements). It is worth noting that Kelly’s version of the phrase had no comma and was written “keep it simple stupid”.

Author/Copyright holder: Terretta. Copyright terms and licence: CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

There’s really not much more to say here is there? Keep it simple stupid.

Kelly explained the idea to others with a simple story. He told the designers at Lockheed that whatever they made had to be something that could be repaired by a man in a field with some basic mechanic’s training and simple tools. The theater of war (for which Lockheed’s products were designed) would not allow for more than that. If their products weren’t simple and easy to understand – they would quickly become obsolete in combat conditions and thus worthless.

Today the KISS principle is celebrated in many engineering professions (including software engineering) and is often brought to bear by managers in many professions as well as by trainers and educators.

The First Usability Principle?

KISS may have been the first usability principle for product design – though it was never formally presented as a usability principle. It focuses on the idea that if we can’t understand a product, we can’t use it properly and that the widest possible audience must be able to understand it, if the product is to gain maximum market share. This is as true for mobile applications as it is for fighter planes.

Author/Copyright holder: United States Navy. Copyright terms and licence: Public Domain.

The Lockheed F-35 will have been built to the KISS principle and so should your products if you want them to succeed.

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Variants of KISS

The KISS principle is also offered in two other forms (for those who feel delicate about the inclusion of the word “stupid”):

  • Keep it short and simple
  • Keep it simple and straightforward

Though both phrases technically introduce an “a” into the acronym – they both deliver the same message as “keep it simple, stupid”. The objective of any process is to deliver the simplest possible outcome.

Alternatives to KISS

KISS is related to a fair number of other famous quotes, phrases and principles. Among them:

  • Occam’s Razor –“Among competing hypotheses, the one with the fewest assumptions should be selected” (but often restated as “The simplest solution is most likely the correct solution” which is not quite the same thing).
  • Albert Einstein’s – “Make everything as simple as possible but not simpler” (it is possible that Einstein never actually said this and it was actually a paraphrase of something he said during a lecture but the principle remains sound).
  • Leonardo Da Vinci’s – “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication” (when, perhaps, the greatest designer in history offers this advice, it’s almost certainly good advice).
  • Ludwig Mies Van Der Rohe’s – “Less is more”(Mies was a highly respected architect and peer of the better known Frank Lloyd Wright)
  • Bjarne Stroustrup’s “Make Simple Tasks Simple!” (Stroustrup is a Danish computer scientist and highly regarded academic).
  • Antoin Marie Jean-Baptiste Roger, comte de Saint-Exupery’s “It seems that perfection is not reached when there is nothing left to add but when there is nothing left to take away.”

Author/Copyright holder: Fred the Oyster. Copyright terms and licence: CC BY-SA 3.0

Occam’s razor is a metaphorical rather than literal razor and it’s often misquoted too. It is possible for something to be too simple and this diagram, rather ably, demonstrates.

A Note of Caution When Applying KISS to Design

Whilst simplicity is an admirable goal and can lead to enhanced user experiences, it is important not to let simplicity interfere with the design objective. The user must still be able to carry out their task requirements with the finished products or the design process has failed – no matter how simple the final design.

Products such as DSLR Cameras are by nature more complex than the cameras found on the latest generations of smartphones. Complexity is to be resisted when it exists for its own sake and not when complexity can enhance the design for the user.

Author/Copyright holder: Bill Bertram. Copyright terms and licence: CC BY-SA 3.0

The DSLR is as simple as it can be without reducing its utility. It’s not as simple as a mobile phone camera but it offers more options to the photographer. KISS has not been abandoned here but rather kept in line with user expectations.

The Take Away

Simplicity is a key design principle. The easier something is to understand and use – the more likely it is to be adopted and engaged with. KISS, “keep it simple, stupid” is thus a great rule of thumb to be applied when considering your design work in a larger context of usage. However, it is also important not to make things so simple that they compromise the functionality of the final design – users will live with a little complexity if it enhances their overall experience.

References

Lifehacker offers tips into implementing the KISS principle in your life in general here – http://www.lifehack.org/articles/communication/10-tips-kiss-your-life.html

Hero Image: Author/Copyright holder: Kristian Bjornard. Copyright terms and licence: CC BY-SA 2.0

Keep it stylish.
Keep it comfortable.
Keep it simple, stupid.

Keep it as a table.
Keep it as a chair.
Keep it simple, stupid.

Keep it for treasures.
Keep it for trash.
Keep it simple, stupid.

Keep it timeless.
Keep it for years.
Keep it simple, stupid.

Keep the kids´mess.
Keep the shape.
Keep it simple, stupid.

Design manifest

Velkommen til KISS keep.it.simple.stupid. – et dansk design studio, som skaber møbler i et enkelt, funktionelt formsprog. Vi skaber smukke, ærlige produkter, der er inspireret af hverdagen omkring os.

Vores navn er vores mantra! KISS keep.it.simple.stupid. refererer til en designfilosofi, der har det simple, ultrafunktionelle design som mål og et krav om at undgå unødig kompleksitet. For os refererer det også til en simplere måde at indrette vores hverdag og gøre livet lettere at leve.

Vores navn forpligter og definerer vores hverdag og produkter.

Om KISS

Vi er Mirja og Lars – begge arkitekter, der brænder for design. Vores baggrund gør det naturligt for os at tænke vores design ind i en større helhed. Vi elsker at skabe møbler, der fungerer i alle slags hjem og som kan indpasses i forskellige rumlige sammenhænge efter behov. Ligeledes er det helt væsentligt for os at gennemtænke konstruktion, funktionalitet og detaljer. Og så skal vores møbler inspirere til en simplere hverdag, så vi har mere plads til os selv og hinanden!

Kvalitet og godt håndværk er hjørnesten i vores arbejde. Derfor udvikler vi vores produkter i tæt dialog med vores producenter, som aldrig er langt væk fra os. Det gør at vi kan støtte det gode, lokale håndværk, at vi kan sikre ordentlige arbejdsvilkår og forsvarlig produktion for både mennesker og natur, og ikke mindst at vi kan sørge for at kvaliteten er i top.

Keep following us.
Keep updated.
Keep it simple, stupid.

Vi vil gerne høre fra dig!

Vi har bevidst valgt selv at forhandle vores design. På den måde får vi en direkte kontakt til jer, der skal bruge vores møbler. Jeres indspark er mere end velkomne – og vi tager gerne imod udfordringer! Send os en mail på [email protected], hvis du har en god idé eller et hverdagsbehov, du vil dele med os.

Du er også velkommen til at komme forbi vores tegnestue i Valby. Her kan du både se nærmere på vores møbler og få en snak med os, der har designet dem.

Keep it a stylish.
Keep it comfortable.
Keep it simple, stupid.

Keep it as a table.
Keep it as a chair.
Keep it simple, stupid.

Keep it for treasures.
Keep it for trash.
Keep it simple, stupid.

Keep it timeless.
Keep it for years.
Keep it simple, stupid.

Keep the kids´mess.
Keep the shape.
Keep it simple, stupid.

Design Manifesto

Welcome to KISS keep.it.simple-stupid., a Danish design studio that creates furniture in a simple, functional design language. We create beautiful, honest products inspired by everyday life.

Our name is our mantra! KISS keep.it.simple.stupid. refers to a design philosophy, which has the simple, ultra-functional design as its goal and a requirement to avoid unnecessary complexity. For us, it also refers to a simpler way of organizing our everyday life and making life easier to live.

Our name commits and defines our everyday life and products.

About KISS

We are Mirja and Lars – both architects, who are passionate about design. Our background makes it natural for us to think our design into a larger whole. We love creating furniture that functions in all kinds of homes and that can be adapted to different spatial contexts as needed. Likewise, it is essential for us to think through structure, functionality and details. And lastly our furniture should inspire a simpler everyday life, giving us more space for ourselves and each other!

Quality and good craftsmanship are cornerstones in our work. Therefore we develop our products in close dialogue with our manufacturers, which are never far away from us. This enables us to support the good, local craftsmanship, to ensure proper working conditions and responsible production for both humans and nature, and not least to make sure that the quality is top notch.

Keep following us.
Keep updated.
Keep it simple, stupid.

We would like to hear from you!

We have deliberately chosen to sell our design ourselves. This way we get a direct link to those of you, who are going to use our furniture. After all, we are designing the furniture for you, and we believe that our products will be even better when you share your ideas with us and tell us about your everyday needs. Send us an e-mail at [email protected] Your contributions are more than welcome – and we are happy to accept challenges!

You are more than welcome to visit us at our architectural studio in Valby. Here you will be able to see the entire furniture range and have a chat with us.

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