Whoever Said Simple was Easy?

In the context of design and creative work, there is a reason why simple living and minimalist movements are gaining momentum. Awash with timeless beauty, simplicity feels natural and complete. Perhaps because the end product looks so clean and effortless, we assume that keeping things simple is easy to do. 

Oh boy.

Try drawing a perfect circle in the sand with nothing but a twig. Or keeping your room—scratch that—your desk as tidy as a Muji showroom. Daily. Or describing the feeling of being in love with just words.

Simple things. Very not easy to do.

Simple is Difficult  

As creators, our “simple” art, design and creations often go under-appreciated. Our eyes roll when we hear comments like “oh that’s it?”, “I could have drawn that too,” or “This shouldn’t have cost so much!”

But such comments have some truth in it though — only if we just see the end creation. Because the end result is so simple, it is difficult to see all that is not there. To get to that essential form, hundreds of drafts are thrown away. Hours spent pursuing “what-ifs” only for them to end up as “oh-dears”. We never hear of the thousand nos to every yes.

In many ways, it is a creator’s duty to ensure that the effort belabouring the product becomes known and seen. Otherwise, how can anyone appreciate what they do not see or know is there?

The Value in Simple is in All We Don’t See

“I didn’t fail. I discovered 10,000 ways that don’t work.”

Thomas Edison, of his Simple tungsten lightbulb.

If we could redefine what simple means to a passionate creator, that would be it. Marked by clarity and purpose, simple creation is the relentless removal of the unnecessary—and a keen understanding of what actually is necessary. It takes experience to make the right judgment calls, and finesse to fulfil that call. 

The end result is precise. Unpretentious in its form where all elements exist in harmony. It brims with an inexplicable quality that is somehow objectively beautiful. So, it’s all these intangible effort that no one ever sees that gives a work its value, qualities and cost.

The trouble comes, however, when peering past the veil of simplicity we discover nothing. Thus simple becomes simplistic.

Simplistic is Lazy 

Where creating simple calls for maximum effort, simplistic creation takes little. Minimal exertion. Minimal investment. Minimal commitment. It is overtly lazy. Personally, it is disgusting.

Yet, there is tremendous temptation to take the easy way out. Who wouldn’t want our work to be fast and painless? We would be lying if we said we haven’t thought about it before. But there’s no hiding a simplistic approach to a piece of work. It feels lacking. Haphazard. It simply begs for more. 

Simplistic creation is what gives the world counterfeits, plagiarism and unoriginality. In essence, it is a philosophical betrayal of the word ‘creator’. Perhaps that’s all there is between the two: intention. The constant questioning of purpose and reason for being, and the willpower to do what it takes to achieve that purpose. Thus, we could say the difference between Simple and Simplistic is the quality of human effort, ingenuity and perseverance that goes into the work.

But to truly keep things simple? It is not an excuse to do less, or to take the easy way out. (Which is different from efficiency, but that’s a story for another time.)

We May Not Fully Understand the Differences.
But We Can Feel It.

At the core, what we appreciate most about simple creation is all that it took to get there, and all that you feel from it. It inspires wonder, ponder, and whispers of awe. It makes you think. It brings fulfilment to both creator and observer.  

To appreciate the hard work that creators put into things that seem easy. To better understand the inexplicable qualities behind simple things. And to give value to the intangible qualities behind simple work/solutions. 

As the saying goes, the most important things in life are simple, but never easy.  

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