Keep It Simple, Stupid! – The Design Principle

Keep it simple, Stupid!

The Dalai Lama once said that simplicity is the key to happiness in the modern world. This philosophy can be adapted into the realm of web design and digital interface design. The expressions “Keep it simple, stupid”, “Kill your darlings” and “Less is more” all pinpoint the fact that simplicity is important. Simplicity lasts. Simplicity is necessary in order to properly convey any idea.

The Definition of Design

Keep it simple, Stupid!Design as a noun informally refers to a plan for the construction of an object while “to design” refers to making this plan. No generally-accepted definition of “design” exists and the term has different connotations in different fields. However one can also design by directly constructing an object (as in pottery, cowboy coding and graphic design). Designing often necessitates considering the aesthetic, functional, economic and sociopolitical dimensions of both the design object and design process. It may involve considerable research, thought, modeling, interactive adjustment, and re-design. Meanwhile, diverse kinds of objects may be designed, including clothing, graphical user interfaces, skyscrapers, corporate identities, business processes and even methods of designing.


Simplicity is a more qualitative word connected to simple. It is a property, condition, or quality which things can be judged to have. It usually relates to the burden which a thing puts on someone trying to explain or understand it. Something which is easy to understand or explain is simple, in contrast to something complicated. In some uses, simplicity can be used to imply beauty, purity or clarity. Simplicity may also be used in a negative connotation to denote a deficit or insufficiency of nuance or complexity of a thing, relative to what is supposed to be required.

The concept of simplicity has been related to truth in the field of epistemology. According to Occam’s razor, all other things being equal, the simplest theory is the most likely to be true. In the context of human lifestyle, simplicity can denote freedom from hardship, effort or confusion. Specifically, it can refer to a simple living lifestyle.

Kiss. Keep It Simple, Stupid!

KISS (Keep it Simple, Stupid) is a great concept to follow in work and life. The idea is to keep projects and tasks simple. Many of us will make a relatively simple solution extremely complex and intricate. At the end this solution ends up costing us time, money and building frustration. Human beings love complexity. There are more complex ways to put it, but as this post makes the case for simplicity let’s start as we mean to go on.

Keep it simple, Stupid!KISS is an acronym for the design principle “Keep it simple, Stupid!”. Other variations include “keep it short and simple”, “keep it simple AND stupid” or “keep it simple and straightforward”. The KISS principle states that simplicity should be a key goal in design, and that unnecessary complexity should be avoided.

The acronym was first coined by Kelly Johnson, lead engineer at the Lockheed Skunk Works (creators of the Lockheed U-2 and SR-71 Blackbird spy planes, among many others). While popular usage translates it as ‘Keep it simple, stupid’, Johnson translated it as ‘Keep it simple stupid’, and this reading is still used by many authors.  There was no implicit meaning that an engineer was stupid, just the opposite.

The principle is best exemplified by the story of Johnson handing a team of design engineers a handful of tools, with the challenge that the jet aircraft they were designing must be repairable by an average mechanic in the field under combat conditions with only these tools. Hence, the ‘stupid’ refers to the relationship between the way things break and the sophistication available to fix them.

The KISS Principle Recognizes Two Things

1. People generally want things that are simple, meaning easy to learn and use.

2. A company that makes products or furnishes services may find simplicity an advantage for the company as well, since it tends to shorten time and reduce cost.  Where the company is trying to use the principle on behalf of users, however, design time may take longer and cost more, but the net effect will be beneficial since easy-to-learn-and-use products and services tend to be cheaper to produce and service in the long run.