Simple is cool

Simple is cool

One of my favorite Einstein quotes is this: “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough”. It is quite likely that, like many other quotations attributed to Einstein, he never actually said it but I prefer to believe that he said something at least a bit like it. There are various forms of the quotation: “If you can’t explain it to a six year old, you don’t understand it yourself” or “It should be possible to explain the laws of physics to a barmaid”. I studied Astrophysics at University and I seem to recall testing that last one out quite a bit.

This valuable aphorism doesn’t just apply to explanations of complex issues – this also applies to products – simple design nearly always reflects an intimate understanding of user requirements – the kind of design that makes you think “why didn’t I think of that?” One of the best examples of this is Taulia. They address what is actually a fairly complex set of business issues but they’ve turned their solution into something a kid could explain. Look at this very cool video illustrating their dynamic discounting tools.

Purchasing Insight logoSadly, it’s not always like this. Those who recall the early days of e-procurement will be very familiar with the early promises. Ariba called their UI a ‘Walk-up” interface. No training needed – just log on and you can buy stuff on-line. And in those days – the late 90s – buying on-line was revolutionary but it quickly went wrong. It went wrong because the software vendors didn’t understand users. They didn’t understand that businesses buy more than stationery and computer accessories and when it comes to real life B2B supply chain managers, e-procurement didn’t work.

But that was nearly 20 years ago and today we’re seeing some very cool solutions – and you can tell they’re cool because they’re simple. Solutions like Coupa, Nipendo and Deem. Like Taulia, they address hard-core business issues but with an interface that is accessible and reflects an intimate understanding of their users.

Simple doesn’t always equate to successful. Simple can be simplistic – it can miss the point, overlook the detail. But when a business solution is comprehensive, complete AND simple – that is very cool.

Pete Loughlin can be found on twitter @peteloughlin