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Simple models

“Complexity in the work. Simplicity in how we approach the work.”

Following on from my previous blog post, I’m a big advocate of designing simple models, or frameworks (including working from first principles).

When we’re working to solve problems, it’s the simplicity and clarity of frameworks that can help us to work with subject matters that are inherently complex.

Whatever it is that we’re creating or communicating to support a design process, the question should always be can this be made simpler?

Simple models typically take more time to create than more complex models or frameworks. They should involve a process of deconstructing how you intend to work, or how you intend to enable others to work. This is about how you introduce sets of constraints that determine the most important things to focus on, and how to work with them.

The challenge here is to keep evaluating your models and frameworks. For example, can you afford to lose a level of detail in order to help communicate something more clearly, or for it to act as a more effective tool in a design process?

Creating simple, clear models and frameworks

A good model should create shared understanding of core concepts, principles and ideas in a way that allows people to work together and build something far more complex in a systematic way.

Simplicity by design in models and frameworks will help you create the space for dealing with increasing levels of technical detail and complexity in your work.

To continuously evaluate the frameworks or the structure of how you are working, focus on the following steps.

  • Understand and evaluate how new things (knowledge, detail, insights, planning) support, effect or alter the model you have or are working with. i.e. how does what we know now change how we need to think about understanding and working with what we need to do next?
  • Find ways to simplify and/or expand on the model taking into account everything new that you now know.
  • Repeat.

This means constantly working towards simple models, but most of all, anchoring your design process to simplicity as a way of working with complexity.

Ben Holliday is an experienced design leader, writer and speaker. This is his blog (started in 2005). You can follow all of Ben's blog posts by subscribing to the RSS feed, or follow him on Twitter for more regular updates.