In Praise of Simplicity

I’ve finally been able to start getting caught up on my podcasts and just listened to Walter Isaacson’s interview with Terry Gross on NPR’s Fresh Air (yes, I have podcasts from over a year ago I still haven’t listened to).  Pulling nuggets of wisdom and insight from Steve Job’s life is like finding seashells on the shore or an espresso in Seattle, but what stood out for me from Isaacson’s stories was Steve Jobs repeatedly holding meetings with his design engineers and telling them he wanted to make the interface simpler.

I just recently upgraded to iOS 6 and the only thing easier than finding words of wisdom from the life and career of Steve Jobs is finding things to complain about with iOS 6 (I still can’t move apps more than one screen without my phone soft-rebooting and we’re in iOS 6.0.1?!).  But what has really started to bother me as a consumer is how cluttered most apps have become.  The new Google Maps app is great, but I can hardly touch the screen without triggering some kind of function (usually of the unintentional or unhelpful type).  The new App Store app has become an ethereal swipe, slide, and scroll creation that lacks the ease and stability of the older version.

I read through each of the update blurbs in the App Store before I update and it seems each app is trying to do everything, integrate with everything else, while trying to fix all the problems that came from trying to do all the things it tried (and failed) to do before.  I’m sure this is just the natural evolution of the mobile technology environment.  Having mastered the basics like children learning to speak, walk, and run, the market has evolved to teenagers who think they can do everything.

As a user, I prefer applications that work reliably and consistently.  I’m rarely a full-featured type of person.  That’s probably why I’m drawn to Apple and it’s products, despite their problems.  As a programmer, I approach tasks with the mindset of writing the messiest, dirtiest function possible that just gets the job done, then refining it into a more elegant solution to the problem.  I take out variables and control statements I don’t need and distill the code to the simplest possible expression of what I’m trying to solve. I recently ran across a quote that summarizes this approach succinctly:

Perfection is achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away
– Antoine de Saint-Exupery

At some point, the act of creating must stop and the creation stand on its own so another creation can be wrought.  So to, I think the goal of “feature complete” is far too often an object disappearing over the development horizon when it should be clearly defined and understood as the ultimate goal of everyone working on the project.  Ultimately, I believe, as perhaps Steve Jobs did, that a simpler life is ultimately a happier and far more fulfilling one.

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