Showing posts with label Keep It Simple. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Keep It Simple. Show all posts

February 20, 2019

Simple And Beautiful

Thought this was a nice touch on the table. 

Just a simple drinking glass with a little water on the bottom and these three beautiful flowers inside. 

Pink, Yellow, Orange. 

So simple, yet so beautiful.

Maybe that's the point. ;-)

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)
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April 6, 2013

Go Simple!

Two interesting recent articles discuss the importance of building in simplicity to product design to make things more useful to people.

Contrary to popular belief, simple is not easy. Mat Mohan in Wired Magazine (Feb. 2013) says that "simplicity is about subtraction," and "subtraction is the hardest math in product design."

Two of the best recent examples of simplicity through subtraction is what Apple was able to achieve with the iPod, iPhone, iPad, and iTunes, and what Google did through its "sparse search page."

Unfortunately, too many companies think that "quality is associated with more," instead of less, and so they pack on options, menus, and buttons until their darn devices are virtually useless. 

Similarly, an article in the Wall Street Journal (29 March 2013) advocates that "simplicity is the solution," and rails against the delays, frustration, and confusion caused by complexity. 

How many gadgets can't we use, how many instructions can't we follow, and how many forms can't we decipher--because of complexity?

The WSJ gives examples of 800,000 apps in the Apple store, 240+ choices on the menu for the Cheesecake Factory (I'd like to try each and every one), and 135 mascaras, 437 lotions, and 1,992 fragrances at the Sephora website.

With all this complexity, it's no wonder then that so many people suffer from migraines and other ailments these days. 

I remember my father telling me that you should never give consumers too many choices, because people just won't know what to choose.  Instead, if you simply give them a few good choices, then you'll make the sale.

Unfortunately, too many technologists and engineers develop ridiculously complex products, and too many lawyers, legislators, and regulators insist on and prepare long and complex documents that people aren't able to read and cannot readily understand. 

For example, in 2010, the tax code was almost 72,000 pages long, the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) is about 2,700 pages, and the typical credit card contract now runs to 20,000 words.  

Even the brightest among us, and those with a lot of time on their hands, would be challenged to keep up with this. 

While rewriting and tax code is a welcome topic of discussion these days, it befuddles the mind why most of the time, we simply add on new laws, rules, regulations, amendments, and exclusions, rather than just fix it--plain and simple. 

But that's sort of the point, it's easier for organizations to just throw more stuff out there and put the onus on the end-users to figure it out--so what is it then that we pay these people for? 

The plain language movement has gotten traction in recent years to try and improve communications and make things simpler and easier to understand. 

Using Apple as an example again (yes, when it comes to design--they are that good), it is amazing how their products do not even come with operating instructions--unlike the big confusing manuals in minuscule print and numerous languages that used to accompany most electronic products.  And that's the point with Apple--you don't need instructions--the products are so simple and intuitive--just the way they are supposed to be, thank you Apple!

The journal offers three ways to make products simpler: 

- Empathy--have a genuine feel for other people's needs and expectations.

- Distill--reduce products to their essence, getting rid of the unneeded bells and whistles. 

- Clarify--make things easier to understand and use.

These are really the foundations for User-Centric Enterprise Architecture, which seeks to create useful and usable planning products and governance services--the point is to provide a simple and clear roadmap for the organization, not a Rorschach test for guessing the plan, model, and picture du-jour. 

Keeping it simple is hard work--because you just can't throw crap out there and expect people to make sense of it--but rather you have to roll up your sleeves and provide something that actually makes sense, is easy to use, and makes people's lives better and not a living product-design hell. ;-)

(Source Photo: Dannielle Blumenthal)
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August 28, 2009

Minimalism (short title intentional)

They question of the day—is less really more?

I don’t know a lot about art (except that I appreciate it when it’s good). But I remember often hearing subtle advice about leaving plenty of “white space”—i.e. don’t clutter up the work, because less is more.

Recently, I heard some manager at work say: “I don’t care what it looks like…just give me content, content, content.” Again, to me the theme was the same—as they say, keep it simple stupid (a.k.a. KISS).

It reminded me of what one of my high school teachers used to say about class assignments: Just give me the “meat and potatoes”.

Then, I read an interesting article in Wired (September 2009) about Craig Newmark and his company, Craigslist, which is the epitome of minimalism, when it comes to design, features, and functions.

“Besides offering nearly all of its features for free, it scorns advertising, refuses investments, ignores design, and does not innovate.”

Craigslist looks like no other website that I’ve ever seen on the Internet. It has no graphics. No pictures (unless it’s associated with a listing). Little real text. It’s basically just layers upon layers of links, until you get to a particular listing. The site seems to disregard all the accepted standards of website design, navigation, and functionality.

“Craigslist is one of the strangest monopolies in history, where customers are locked in by fees set at zero and where the ambiance of neglect is not a way to extract more profit but the expression of a world view.”

And what is Craig Newark’s world view?

Minimalism and simplicity.

And in the crazy world we live in today of hyper consumerism, accumulation of wealth, ever-increasing productivity, acceleration of communications, boosting of processing power, aggregation of data, and doing more with less—the simple and minimalistic approach of Craigslist is an oasis in a desert of often meaningless greed and gluttony.

Newmark says: “People are good and trustworthy and generally just concerned with getting through the day.”

Therefore, “All you have to do to serve them well is build a minimal infrastructure allowing them to get together and work things out for themselves. Any additional features are almost superfluous and could even be damaging.”

So how is Craigslist doing with such a simple approach—is it being overrun by the more aggressive web builders and entrepreneurs of our time?

Au contraire. “Craigslist get more traffic then either eBay or Amazon.com. eBay has more than 16,000 employees. Amazon has more than 20,000. Craigslist has 30.”

Moreover, according to their factsheet, Craigslist has more than 20 billion page views per month. And more than 50 million people use it in the U.S. alone.

Estimates are that Craigslist generates more than a $100 million in revenue and is worth billions.

While I can't say that I am a big user myself, these are some pretty amazing stats for a site that is bare bones and maybe more than a little awkward.

The philosophy of Newmark is: why add the “bells and whistles” if the user doesn’t want or need it?

In a sense, Craig Newmark is one of the most user-centric enterprise architects of our time. He genuinely seeks to understand his customer needs and to serve them in a way that meets them in an almost primal fashion.

Newmark has architected Craigslist in a uniquely user-centric way, undeterred that it runs counter to almost all conventional website wisdom.


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April 9, 2009

You Can Lead a Horse to Water

When we architect change, we have to build in the transition plan for how to get from point A to point B. The problem with most enterprise architectures though is that they begin and end with the equivalent of “Thou Shalt” and never does the architecture deal with the behavioral elements of how to actually motivate people and organizations to change the way we plan/want them to.

Maybe that’s one reason why architectures so often remain shelfware and never actually get implemented.

This is reminiscent of the adage, “you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink” or can you?

With the Obama administration elected on a platform of change and major problems facing our nation in terms of the economy, healthcare, the environment, and so on, we are seeing the government confront the dilemma of how do we get the change we promised?

Time Magazine, 2 April 2009 has an interesting article “How Obama is using the Science of Change.”

The administration is using it [behavioral science] to try to transform the country. Because when you know what makes people tick, it’s a lot easier to help them change.”

Similarly, this knowledge can help enterprise architects effect change in their organizations. It’s not enough to just put a plan to paper—that’s a long way from effecting meaningful and lasting change.

So here are some tips that I adapted from the article:

  • Bottom-up or Top Down: We can mandate change from the top or we can grow change from grass-roots. If we can do both, the change is swifter and more likely to succeed.
  • Carrot and Stick: Change is not easy and usually will not happen without a nudge—we need help. We need to motivate desired change and disincentive obstinate clinging to failed status quo behaviors that are hurting the mission and long term success of the organization.
  • Make change clear and simple: Explain to people why a change is important and necessary. “In general, we’re ignorant, shortsighted, and biased toward the status quo…we procrastinate. Our impulsive ids overwhelm our logical superegos.” So change has got to be clearly articulated, easy to understand, and simple for people to act on. “Cheap is alluring; easy can be irresistible.”
  • Accept that change is painful: We need to keep our eye on the goal, and then accept that we have to work hard to achieve it. President Obama “urges us to snap out of denial, to accept that we’re in for some prolonged discomfort but not to wallow in it, to focus on our values.”
  • The way of the herd: When implementing change initiatives, we need to build community “creating a sense that we’re all in this together.” “We’re a herdlike species….when we think we’re out of step with our peers, the part of our brain that registers pain shifts into overdrive.”
  • Keep the focus on long-term success: Weight the benefits of long-term planning and change to short term status quo and gratification; constantly remind people that most worthwhile organizational goals are a marathon and not a sprint. But together, we can support each other and achieve anything.

With behavioral science principles like these, we can make enterprise architecture transition plans truly actionable by the organization.


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November 16, 2008

Enterprise Architecture Plans that Stick

I read a great little book today called Made to stick by Chip and Dan Heath about "Why some ideas survive and others die."

As I read this, I was thinking how very applicable this was to User-centric Enterprise Architecture in terms of making architecture products and plans that stick—i.e. they have a real impact and value to the organization and are not just another ivory tower effort and ultimately destined as shelfware.

The Heath brothers give some interesting examples of stories that stick.

Example #1: A man is given a drink at the bar by a beautiful lady that is laced with drugs and he finds himself waking up in a bathtub on ice with a note that tell him not to move and to call 911—he has been the victim of a kidney heist and is in desperate need of medical attention.

Example #2: Children Halloween candy is found tampered with and there is a scare in the community. The image of the razorblade in the apple is poignant and profoundly changes people’s perception of and trust in their neighbors.

Now, you may have heard of these stories already and they probably strike a deep chord inside everyone who hears them. Well, surprise—neither story is true. Yet, they have lasting power with people and are remembered and retold for years and years. Why do they stick, while other stories and ideas never even make it off the ground?

Here are the six necessities to make ideas have lasting, meaningful impact and how they relate to enterprise architecture:

Simplicity—drilldown to essential core ideas; be a master of exclusion; come up with one sentence that is so profound that an individual could spend a lifetime learning to follow it. In enterprise architecture, keep information products and plans straightforward and on point.

Unexpectedness—violate people’s expectations; surprise them, grab people's attention; I call this the shock factor. In architecture, we can use principles of communication and design (for example identify critical relationships in the information) to garner people’s attention, and help them come away with actionable messages.

Concreteness—use concrete images to ensure our idea will mean the same thing to everyone. In enterprise architecture, we can use information visualization to make information and ideas more concrete for the users (i.e. “a picture is worth a thousand words.”)

Credibility—promote ideas in ways that they can be tested, so that they are credible to the audience. An example is when Reagan was running for president and he asked Are you better off today than 4 years ago. This brought the message home and made it credible with voters in ways that pure numbers and statistics could not. For architects, the roadmap provided to the enterprise must be credible—it must have the level of detail, accuracy, comprehensiveness, and currency to garner acceptance.

Emotions--make your audience feel something; people feel things for people not for abstractions. In architecture and planning, we need to inspire and motivate people in the organization effectively influence, shape, and guide change. Remember, there is a natural resistance to change, so we need to appeal to people intellectually and also emotionally.

Stories—tell stories that are rich and provide for an enduring mental catalogue that can be recalled for critical situations in later life. Often, architects create isolated products of information that describe desired performance outcomes, business processes, information flows, systems, and technology products and standards; however, unless these are woven together to tell a cohesive story for the decision makers, the siloed information will not be near as effective as it can be.

These six principles spell out SUCCES, and they can be adeptly used successfully by enterprise architects to hone information and planning products that enable better decisions. These are the types of architectures that stick (and do not stink) and are truly actionable and valuable to the organization.


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November 26, 2007

The "Right" Way to Introduce New Technology and Enterprise Architecture

I came across some interesting lessons learned on rolling out new technology (from the perspective of franchisers/franchisees) that apply nicely to user-centric enterprise architects (adapted from The Wall Street Journal, 26 November 2007):

1)
Partner with the user--"if you can get a franchisee really excited about the new technology, it's a lot simpler to get it rolled out...if I can convince you, and you can see the difference, you will be my best spokesman."

2)
Testing it first--"finding a guinea pig...we have a lot of people telling us they have great concepts. We want to see that it works with our customer base, our menu, our procedures first."

3)
Show the cost-benefit--"an enhancement may look promising, but if its payback is years away, the investment may not compute." Why fix it, if it ain't broke.

4)
Keep it simple--"most franchisees are focused on their business, not technology...so they're not looking for something to complicate their lives." Also, focus the solution on the operators in the field and not on the headquarters staff, who may not be completely in tune with the realities on the front lines with the customers.
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July 22, 2007

K.I.S.S. - Rule of Thumb #2

Rule #2 of user-centric EA is Keep It Simple, Smart (Person).

Executives and decision-makers are busy people and do not often have the time or
patience to decipher what you are trying to say. That is why we need to keep things straightforward and focused!

For example, in my agency, we have our Business Profile, which identifies our major functions. It is categorized into three, simple, color-coded functional areas (core mission, mission support, and business support).
  • Under Core Mission, we have the mission programs of the agency (such as Search and Rescue, and Defense Readiness).
  • Under Mission Support, we have the functions that directly enable the performance of core mission, such as logistics management, command control and communications, and training.
  • Under Business Support, we have the back-office functions, such as finance, HR, legal, public affairs, etc.
We use this simple graphic as a starting point for understanding what we do, who we are, and what our organizational identity is.

I have presented this to senior executives in the agency and have received kudos for taking the functions of a large, multi-mission maritime organization and making it simple for anyone to understand.

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