Less Complexity, More Simplicity

Posted on August 15, 2011


Simple is the distilled essence of complex. Everywhere in business complex is replaced by simple.

In writing, editors say simple, clear writing is much more difficult to accomplish—and much more indicative of clear thought—than complex writing. It takes much more practice, understanding of message, and work to write something simply.

In software, computer programmers denounce the overly complex product in favor of a simple one. Jason Fried, founder of 37 Signals, founded his company on simple. His philosophy is simple software is more facile—easier to use and improve—and the majority of programs get bogged down with features that betray a product’s usefulness. He has a famous Building Innovation Factory (BIF-3) talk that poo-poos the design of well-known software because it is not simple and intuitive.

In design, simple is far more desired than complex, which is why Apple products dominate more feature-laden competition. 

I appreciate a complex invention, but it should operate simply. In my own experience, I have gravitated more toward simple.

When my daughter was born, my wife and I were overwhelmed with the different kinds of baby bottles. So many brands, and they each have their patented ‘systems’ and accessories. My wife took a friend’s recommendation and we bought a brand called Dr. Brown’s. This system’s design was supposed to cut down on the air ingested by the baby during feeding. It may have worked. I don’t remember because we scrapped it within a week. Parents want bottles that deliver milk without a mess and are easy to use. There were many parts to these bottles, five or six pieces if I remember, and they were hard to clean. It was too complex, so we donated the entire system to Goodwill and bought something else.

Which brings me to design-bid-build (DBB). How can DBB not be categorized as too complex? As a method to complete a project, it works—but what an effort required! There are multiple contracts, paperwork from multiple teams, multiple opinions and team leaders to handle. Multiple sources of information create conflicts at times, which means sorting to find the accurate from the inaccurate. It takes a lot of energy to track, utilize and manage. And in the end, the quality delivered is not often worth the complexity of effort and energy.

If DBB is hopelessly complex, design-build (DB) is its opposite:  simple. DB is the concentrated, essential part of project design and construction, and easy to use. DB is a project method designed with the consumer, the owner, in mind. Like Apple, DB is about the consumer experience. It maximizes the notion that owners want something simple, easy to understand and manage, so they can spend their energy on their core business—not managing roles and responsibilities between consultants on a construction project.

When something has lots of parts, it ups the ante in my book.  I think:  this better be really good to warrant the extra hassle. Sadly, most times it is not. Design-bid-build may be the project method you grew up with, but I grew up with a travel agent to help book plane tickets, and now I do it online, in half the time, for free, and I get a better result.

That is an example of simplicity replacing complexity. It did not happen overnight. This is design-build replacing what you knew…and it’s coming to a project near you.

Posted in: Design-Build