How Overcomplicating My Solutions Cost Me

This week, I want to talk with you about simplicity and what I’ve learned about simplicity in my career. Many see simplicity as just a way to design, I’ve learned to view it more as a philosophy or way of managing my career.

My Experience:

I always admire designers who practice simplicity in their designs. Minimalists I suppose you could call them. I will also admit that although I admired them, I myself used to not care too much about keeping things simple. Early on in my career a good part of my portfolio was full of complex solutions. Even in the early days of Greenline Creative, things were probably much more complicated than they really needed to be. Those complexities would generally cause additional pain down the road.

At Greenline Creative, we handle the majority of the implementation of our ideas in-house (or with the occasional freelancer). So one of the many negative experiences I had with complex solutions started when we were working on a very large web project for a client. We were asked to develop the brand as well as design and build the MVP of the client’s web app. It was a tight deadline, but the budget was lucrative enough that it allowed us to make the project one of our primary focuses. It also allowed us to bring together the additional resources we needed to complete the project on time and fill some technical gaps.

Confidence was high with everyone. This was going to be a great project for all involved and we were excited to be a part of it. Everything was going smoothly as we defined features, moved through wires and then onto hi-fidelity comps. The brand and the design of the app was really sharp and the client loved it! I couldn’t have been more excited with the progress. Then everything changed.

Once we moved onto implementing these ideas, everything started to fall apart. This had nothing to do with the skills of the team building this web app. They were more than capable of completing the job. This had everything to do with me. I simply overcomplicated what we were building. From image-heavy design comps to bloated features, things became very complicated to implement. Yes, I crossed checked much of what we designed with the developers, but some times you never really know what you’re getting into until you’re knee deep into the development. There is only so much you can estimate. Along with the above complications, I even made some hard promises and set some unrealistic expectations with the client (perhaps a topic for another lesson).

All of these complexities began to compound and the pressure started to build as our deadline became closer. As we approached our deadline, we had to make some huge sacrifices in order to meet the deadline. Features that we specked and designed for, never really launched and perhaps even worse, trust was broken and feelings were hurt. It was an eventful time to say the least. I felt like I was on a runaway train.

Even with some holes, the client was very happy with the project. In fact, he’s still using, iterating and growing this product today. However, the pain and tension it took to get a launched MVP was a huge lesson learned in simplicity.

During that time, I would reference and think about some of most simple apps that we were using to help us build this web app. Apps like InVision, Basecamp and Harvest. I would look at these apps and admire the beauty and simplicity. I envisioned this same simplicity in my client’s web app. The difference is, at that time, I didn’t realize that in order to create such a simple and useful end product, you have to be aware of the results of your actions. Every tiny decision has the potential to add complexity to your solutions. As those complexities add up, they have further consequences on the scope, flexibility, budget and timeline down the road. It was a hard lesson learned, but this lesson on simplicity was probably the most important lesson that I’ve learned so far in my career. It’s now a philosophy that I follow. Wherever I can simplify, I do. Desk clutter, billing, etc. All of this simplicity has improved my productivity, revenue and has even made me more valuable to my clients and team members and that’s a win!

What I’ve Learned about Simplicity.  

  • Simplicity is not a style: I think many designers view simplicity as a style of design. It’s not that. Simplicity is a philosophy that has great return. Eliminating complexities in your processes, designs and even life, create a more streamlined and effective solution. This effectively helps you reach your end goal much quicker and effectively.
  • Simplicity makes you money: When you put simplicity at the forefront of your solutions, you will make more money. The time it takes to implement a simple solution, vs. a complex solution allows for you to stay on task and on budget. This increases your margins. A simple solution also reduces infrastructure and business costs along the way. This ensures you make more profit within your business.
  • Simplicity equals efficiency: When it comes to simplicity, perhaps the biggest gain is in efficiency. By creating simple processes and solutions, you can iterate, adapt and scale much quicker compared to complex production-heavy design ideas and processes. With simple processes anyone in your company can learn and take action on things. It’s a win win for you, your clients and your team.
  • Simplicity equals better conversion: Believe it or not, people don’t like to have a ton of choices and they want the answer to be very clear to them. By practicing simplicity in your designs and solutions, you’ll better your conversion rate by eliminating the noise. Often times, young designers or marketers think they need to explain things more in order to improve the conversion of their CTA (call to action). The reality is, they don’t. They just need to take away and give the visitor a quick and simple next step.
  • Simplicity doesn’t mean cheap: This goes without saying, but it’s true. I’ve found the simplest of solutions are the hardest to create. Just because your solutions are simple and often times may require you spend less time on production and implementation, that doesn’t mean they’re worthless. I’d even go as far as saying they’re probably worth more, because the simplicity of the solutions will return greater results today and long term for the client.

My Takeaway:

Since learning from my early mistakes of overcomplicating my solutions, I feel like I now actually offer more value to my clients and team members. I know that simple solutions convert better. They also make me more money by staying on budget and reducing my implementation costs. This desire to practice a more simplified philosophy comes from me wanting to create solutions that are not just polished, but more importantly generate a better return for my clients. Deciding whether to create a solution that looks great and also utilizes a ton of new technologies (just because I can use them) vs. not is what makes the difference in your solutions and code being timeless or amateur over a period of time.

Don’t get me wrong. I do think you should explore technology and evolve as a designer, but just know when and where to use it. When in doubt, ask yourself. “What cost will this decision have now and down the road? How much is it really going to gain me by making it today?” It’s in those types of questions that you start to move past design for design sake to design that communicates and encourages action.

I’d love to continue the conversation with you. What’s been your experience with simplicity?

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