On Simplicity

In the 1997 movie "Contact", Jodie Foster discovers an alien signal that contains the construction plans for a spaceship. Trying to assemble it, the engineers are surprised to find that the crew capsule is just an empty metal pod.

“That shit’s unsafe”, they say (I’m paraphrasing), so they attach a complicated wall-mounted seat to the inside. When the ship launches, that seat starts to pick up heavy vibrations and violently breaks apart. Foster releases her seatbelt seconds before it kills her and ultimately finds that the design was perfect all along, enjoying the rest of the ride in smooth anti-gravity.

We assume that complex problems always require complex solutions. We try to solve complexity by inventing tools and technologies to address a problem; but in the process we create another layer of complexity that, in turn, causes its own set of issues.

Simplicity as a Feature

Obviously not every problem has a simple solution, and most complex tools exist because of real usecases. But I think there’s a lot of value in actively questioning the need for complexity. Sometimes the smarter way to build things is to try and take some pieces away, rather than add more to it.

Static sites are on the rise again now, precisely because they are simple. They don’t try to manage serverside code with clever abstractions - they don’t have any. They don’t try to prevent security breaches with advanced firewalls - they get rid of the database entirely.

Some of the most important things in the world are intentionally designed “simple”. In any system, the potential for error directly increases with its complexity - that’s why most elections still work by putting pieces of paper in a box.

Think for Yourself, Question Complexity

Developers are obsessed with the notion of “best practice”.
It implies that there is one correct way of doing things, and all other solutions are either imperfect or, at worst, “anti-patterns”. But the definition of best practice changes everytime a new technology arises, rendering the previous solution worthless garbage (even though it still gets the job done).

There is an undeniable ego factor to the way we use technology in our projects. To show everyone else how clever we are, we come up with harder and harder ways to achieve our tasks. And of course they all solve specific problems - but that does not mean they are always the best solution, regardless of context.

It’s cool to use the latest and greatest tech; but we should always ask if our choices really benefit the user, or if we do it mostly for ourselves. After all, the “Developer Experience” is only a means to an end.

And if we’re talking DX - I’ll take simplicity over features any day.

Webmentions

  1. Andy Bell
    > “There is an undeniable ego factor to the way we use technology in our projects. To show everyone else how clever we are, we come up with harder and harder ways to achieve our tasks.” Fabulous article by @mxbck. mxb.at/blog/on-simpli… andy-bell.design/notes/122/
  2. Marcus Herrmann
    "But I think there's a lot of value in actively questioning the need for complexity. Sometimes the smarter way to build things is to try and take some pieces away, rather than add more to it." 👍 (Post also contains a reference to one of my favorite movies 👍)
  3. Quentin Bellanger
    Great post by @mxbck 📖 mxb.at/blog/on-simpli…
  4. Russell Heimlich
    "We assume that complex problems always require complex solutions. We try to solve complexity by inventing tools and technologies to address a problem; but in the process we create another layer of complexity that, in turn, causes its own set of issues." mxb.at/blog/on-simpli…
  5. Adactio Links
    On Simplicity | Max Böck - Frontend Web Developer mxb.at/blog/on-simpli…
  6. Natasha Lampard
    "It's cool to use the latest & greatest tech but we should always ask if our choices really benefit the user, or if we do it mostly for ourselves." On simplicity in the things we do & make. Applicable to tech, but also, one might say, life in general. mxb.at/blog/on-simpli…
  7. Robert Möstl
    Good read! AFAIR @richhickey called that "incidental complexity". Nice website design by the way.
  8. Phil Hawksworth
    This post about simplicity and the temptation to tend towards over engineering resonates strongly with me.
  9. Pedro Duarte
    Absolutely loved this post mate 👊
  10. Sohail Sarwar
    "I'll take simplicity over features any day." mxb.at/blog/on-simpli… #productdesign
  11. Sush Kelly
    Couldn’t agree more. I was going to refactor my site to learn a new way of building but am actually really happy with Jekyll/Github pages for what it does.
  12. Tom
    Great phrase: simplicity as a feature. I really enjoyed the article. Thanks Max!
  13. Max Böck
    thanks for reading, tom!
  14. CSS-Tricks
    > It's cool to use the latest and greatest tech; but we should always ask if our choices really benefit the user, or if we do it mostly for ourselves. mxb.at/blog/on-simpli…
  15. Sara
    Loved it. I absolutely agree.
  16. Ariel Burone 🇦🇷
    An excellent think piece by @mxbck "It's cool to use the latest and greatest tech; but we should always ask if our choices really benefit the user, or if we do it mostly for ourselves. After all, the "Developer Experience" is only a means to an end." mxb.at/blog/on-simpli…
  17. Chafik
    Must read for all these people in companies trying to look smart by adding more and more unrealistic business rules where a simple one is enough mxb.at/blog/on-simpli… #po #projectmanagement #simplicity #Agile
  18. Emil Nikov
  19. DAI Builds - Digital Agency
    @robiriondo: > It's cool to use the latest and greatest tech; but we should always ask if our choices really benefit the user, or if we do it mostly for ourselves. mxb.at/blog/on-simpli…
  20. Gemma Stiles
    This is a great article by @mxbck encouraging us to always question complexity... "It's cool to use the latest and greatest tech; but we should always ask if our choices really benefit the user, or if we do it mostly for ourselves" mxb.at/blog/on-simpli…
  21. Taty Grassini
    On Simplicity | Max Böck - Frontend Web Developer mxb.at/blog/on-simpli…
  22. Ivan Prignano
  23. martino
    Simplicity as a Feature mxb.at/blog/on-simpli…
  24. Westley Knight
    This article by @mxbck on simplicity puts all of my thoughts over the last week or so far more eloquently than my usual rambling rants. A must read for thoughtful developers. mxb.at/blog/on-simpli…
  25. Radimir Bitsov
    “There is an undeniable ego factor to the way we use technology in our projects. To show everyone else how clever we are, we come up with harder and harder ways to achieve our tasks.” mxb.at/blog/on-simpli…
  26. Thomas Glaser
    I've seen many dev teams lose sight of this. The simplest solution is almost always the best one. mxb.at/blog/on-simpli…
  27. 全部入りHTML太郎
    On Simplicity | Max Böck - Frontend Web Developer mxb.at/blog/on-simpli…
  28. David Bisset
    Here’s the great post from ⁦@mxbck⁩ on how developers should look at simplicity that I mentioned in my #SunPHP19 talk yesterday. mxb.at/blog/on-simpli…
  29. Patrik Illy
  30. Silvestar Bistrović
  31. @murb@todon.nl
  32. Craig Burgess
    On a slightly related note: mxb.at/blog/on-simpli… We're making web development needlessly complicated. I'd never heard of the phrase DX (Developer Experience) before, but it's an important thing we often forget about when making websites now.
  33. Snipcart
    Very cool read by @mxbck on why sometimes less really is more in #webdevelopment. Plus, awesome throwback to the 1997 flick "Contact" :) buff.ly/2MXN4bW
  34. Dennis
    mxb.at/blog/on-simpli… "Sometimes the smarter way to build things is to try and take some pieces away, rather than add more to it" So true!
  35. Martin Underhill
    ‘On Simplicity’ by @mxbck 💯 mxb.at/blog/on-simpli…
  36. Gian D
    On Simplicity | Max Böck - Frontend Web Developer - mxb.at/blog/on-simpli… by @Max Böck on @mxbck
  37. Douglas Wise Rogers
    To my developer friends: mxb.at/blog/on-simpli…
  38. Alberto Bairati
  39. ᛒᛚᚨᛁᚾᛊᛗᛁᚦ
  40. Chris West
    mxb.dev/blog/on-simpli… What he said. I could not agree more.
  41. Wholegrain Digital
    "It’s cool to use the latest and greatest tech; but we should always ask if our choices really benefit the user" - @mxbck On Simplicity mxb.dev/blog/on-simpli…
  42. Andy Crouch
    This! "On Simplicity" ... mxb.dev/blog/on-simpli…
  43. Alex Moldovan
    "Developers are obsessed with the notion of “best practice”. It implies that there is one correct way of doing things, and all other solutions are either imperfect or, at worst, “anti-patterns”. On simplicity by @mxbck mxb.dev/blog/on-simpli…
  44. Imran Parkar
    On Simplicity | Max Böck - Frontend Web Developer - mxb.dev/blog/on-simpli…
  45. html5-spain
  46. Gérard Thomas
    "Dev are obsessed with the notion of “best practice”. It implies that there is one correct way of doing things" mxb.dev/blog/on-simpli…
  47. Saurabh Sawant
    "There is an undeniable ego factor to the way we use technology in our projects. To show everyone else how clever we are, we come up with harder and harder ways to achieve our tasks." mxb.dev/blog/on-simpli…
  48. Ravigopal Kesari
    "It’s cool to use the latest and greatest tech; but we should always ask if our choices really benefit the user, or if we do it mostly for ourselves." mxb.dev/blog/on-simpli…
  49. Adam Johnson
    "...But I think there’s a lot of value in actively questioning the need for complexity. Sometimes the smarter way to build things is to try and take some pieces away, rather than add more to it." mxb.dev/blog/on-simpli… Wise words from @mxbck.