The Simplification Syndrome

Adhityan Ravichandran
11 min readJun 13, 2021

Even before the course of Simple Product Design (SPD) started we got referred to few books and that’s how my initial thought process was set out for sailing through this particular course.

The first book I read wasn’t even on the recommended list for the course but it left a major impact on me from a design thought process standpoint. It was “Jony Ive” by Leander Kahney, it’s primarily the biography of the legendary industrial designer but more than just that it talked about a lot of design philosophies throughout the book which I hugely sympathized with. Later I started with a book that was actually referred to for the course “Product Design” by Paul Rodgers and Alex Milton which is what as of now I’m currently reading.

Understanding our interests:

The first task of the course was to collect five products from the web and five from the home that we like and we had to present what we like about the product from a Macro and Micro perspective, although the definition of Macro and Micro was left to a little wiggle room.
The objective of the task was to be able to better understand our own individual perception of products and the kind of aspect we take up a keen interest in. So that we can take better-acknowledged decisions and domains based on that.

These were the products that I liked and picked up.

As a brief summary, these were some of the keywords that I really liked in these products.

· Elegant

· Simplistic

· Clever

· Efficient

· Minimal

· Functional

· Portable

· Adaptable

Though I had this wide domain of products it formed its own challenge when I had to move onto the next step of introspecting my common interest in them.
I wanted to shy away from technologically loud products for this particular project as it was always been my comfort zone to make products with a major tech focus. So, defocusing the technological aspects and finding a new path from these diverse sets was a really daunting process, personally. And this was where the feedback from the faculty came through.
Instead of defining my interest in a space-based domain, the faculty put it together as a lifestyle domain. Particularly a Modern lifestyle domain which immediately connected all the dots that I was fumbling around with for a while in my head.

I had quite a few directions to move forward with. Like, multitasking aids, Mechanism focused products, DIY items, Workspace design, etc., and with an initial prompt of less is good/minimalism.
Though I was just started thinking and exploring these domains, the prompts were something that I wasn’t satisfied with. It definitely was in the realm of products that I wanted to proceed towards but just quite not there yet.

Ransacking for rubies:

Doing a little bit of research, I got my second set of feedback which was much more directive and clearer asking me for a user-based design. A modern lifestyle product that is tailored for a particular kind of user, maybe even reflect the user or even be an extension of that particular user. I already had a rough idea of the kind of user base that I would like to target.
I then set out to collect an Inspiration pool to further define the specificity of this domain that I took up and figure out the tagline that would fit just right in.

This is the inspiration pool that I created to further understand my direction.

Some of these products reminded me of the naturalness in their design, some of their utter elegance, some ever struck the chord of making me picturing the user. And looking at all of this collectively I slowly realized it was the overall simplistic approach in these designs that I was going after and I instantly knew where this particular thought process in my head came up from.
It was the biography of Jonathan Ive that I read when the course started and throughout the book in multiple instances, they discuss the concept/practice of simplification and simplicity in design that Jonathan Ive followed in his personal designs as well as his work at Apple.

The Simplification vs Minimalism dilemma:

Simplification is not quite minimalism but is very similar. It’s very arbitrary and I really tried differentiating between them in one of my discussions with my batchmates. I quite came up with an example too,
A minimalistic phone might be the one that is just the screen and theoretically, you can do all the interaction with the device that you want to, just within the screen interface. But a simplistic phone is the one with the most crucial additional interactive points added to it like the power button, volume controls, and alert slider which may not be absolutely necessary for the functionality of the device but just makes the whole experience of interacting with the device in many more cases much more efficient, elegant and simple.

Although sitting on that thought and having my time with it I got an even better sense of these concepts. Why is it that we had to consider these concepts like exact points of existence, like an answer to a yes or no?
You can’t define something exactly as minimalism cause for a person who uses a keypad-based phone even the simplistic phone with only the crucial extra buttons on it, is highly minimalistic.
The inference isn’t that it’s all subjective but to acknowledge the gradient of this concept that stretches wider than these two points.

Now maybe we can consider minimalism as a gradient from maybe the ‘keypad phones’ being near one of the extremes and the highly minimal ‘All screen phone’ being near one of the other extremes. Now our protagonist or the light of interest, the ‘Simplified phone’ with the crucial button (which is subjective in its own sense) spreads out in between these two as a subgradient. It almost sounds foolproof or at least as of now.
But still, this is the thought which led me into coming up with my tagline for this project. Which finally felt just right.

Simply Simplified.

Getting to a brief:

Personality Profiles:

At the start of the second week, I began with making brief personality profiles to get a sense of the kind of user I am aiming at. I made half a dozen of them and it collectively looking at it gave me an overall clarity of a multitude of factors that I was looking for, like the aesthetic, the lifestyle, the interactions, etc…

Complexity vs Scale graph:

Then we did an exercise to understand to further understand and narrow down the domains of our work. This is to put all the inspirations we collected earlier in the first week into a four-quadrant complexity vs scale graph and the inspirations that are plotted in the small and simple quadrant would be the kind of direction we would be taking up.

AEIOU:

Soon we were introduced to a particular ideation process abbreviated as AEIOU (Activity-Environment-Interaction-Object-User) to help us build ourselves into an initial design brief. In it, one has to fill out all these different sections with the things that they aiming at and once that’s done, one can just combine the elements from all this to structurize an Initial design brief. The keyword being ‘Initial’, since it still doesn’t encompass every factor nor does carry all the insights that are required before being considered a final brief.

It was really fun to do this exercise and to see multiple briefs pop up in front of my eyes one after the other. I came up with quite a handful of briefs and although I wanted to shy away from tech-based products I still seemed to have myself hung up over it at places. Upon feedback, the first, second, fourth, and sixth briefs were all greenlighted given that I still maintain a sense of user-based design in all of them.

Choosing the brief:

So I started with some research to pick one out and this is where I reused a method we used earlier the complexity vs scale graph it really came in handy and made it super quick to mark out the ones which might not work very logically. So I discarded the brief for a charging hub and the brief for a home gym kit due to both of its complexity, leaving me with the desk organizer and the multi-tool for camera professionals.

Picking out one from these didn’t turn out to be as easy as the previous ones. So I started with some basic research on both of them.

I looked up the kind of tools most camera professionals need, the frequency of use, the kind of situations, and even some existing solutions. Once I did all that the entire project felt very simple and not something I considered challenging for myself. Meanwhile, The desk organizer situation came up with some pretty significant problems and it really actually grasped my interest.

But, I wanted something more, and just limiting the particular problem that I took up right now to only a product of desk organizer felt very limiting. So I tweaked the brief to say desk space management instead of a desk organizer.

Observation phase:

AEIOU V2.0:

Having the brief selected we moved on into the phase of observation in the particular fields that we took up and we were suggested to practice the same AEIOU but here we note down all the different AEIOUs that go into the particular field that we took. But halfway through doing it, I realized in my particular case how it wasn’t suggesting to me all the intricate details, interactions, and multitude of preferences that come up in a desk space workflow.

Starting afresh:

So I bailed on this AEIOU and I set a restart by first collecting a sample set of desk spaces and setups from my batchmates. Which gave me so many insights, influences, new ideas, things that I have initially forgone.
I also went to my friend's place to interview him about his setup. He was an Engineering student, Primarily a programmer, He also produces music and does a lot of freelance photo and video editing works. Looking at his setup gave me a better insight into how the priorities vary based on his nature of work. It led me into seeking out the priorities of different workflow and It led me to settle back on a Designer’s workflow taking up a Designer as my targeted user.

I also noticed how a desk goes through multiple phases like being stripped down to only the most essential, slowly things might pile up, a secondary space one might use to just keep the excess stuff and I started documenting that to further explore the timely progression, cognitive perception, behavioral activities that happen around a desk setup.

The nitpicker’s breakdown:

Then I set out to explore all the different elements, details, variety, preferences, little interactions, and all the permutations and combinations of these that happen in a designer’s desk setup.
This is also when I truly understood how lifestyle-oriented and user-based a desk setup actually is with each element there is so much variety and preferences whose combination determine things from how the setup is utilized to how it is perceived

Rich observations:

Having the inference from all this I was able to write down some of the substantial observations that I could make and I was really happy with it cause the observations weren’t limited to just an organizer or just the desk space management but around the entire system and behavioral pattern that goes on in a desk setup.

Looking for specifics:

Also to have a proper study and understanding of desk organizers, I started with making a pool of different kinds of organizers.

From the pool of organizers I collected, I categorized them into different types and analyzed their characteristics

Till now we have looked at the different elements and factors that goes into a desk setup now we can take a look into the systems that goes into a desk setup.

A system based observation and analysis will give us a much wider vantage point leading to a much clearer understanding

--

--