Building simple, easy to use, functionally perfect products is often hard but usually better than the complex.
As is often the case my first example of this interesting dichotomy happened with food. I was on the road in Chicago and struggling with food choices. It’s something that often happens to vegetarians in heavy meat cultures. The weather was cold and I didn’t want to go outside, so I braved up and sat at the hotel’s steakhouse. Even the salads had meat on them, but a kind (and somewhat bewildered) server accommodated my needs. When it came time for the entre there wasn’t much to choose from but I noticed a plethora of side vegetables choices steak lovers could decorate their meals with. Broccoli was among those choices and I asked the waiter for a plate full. When it arrived I was stunned. Instead of the often limp, pale green I was expecting there was an amazing temple of bright green firm flesh. Fresh, brilliant in color, tasty as could be. I was so impressed I asked for the chef who told me the secret was in its simplicity.
“You parboil the broccoli,” he said. “Take boiling salted water. Immerse the vegetable for less than 30 seconds. As soon as it turns bright green, it’s done. Sprinkle a little salt and pepper, parmesan if you wish (I wished), and voila!” His secret was simplicity.
The next time you use a “simple” intuitive product, like a stereo system that just works exactly as you expect, consider that one of the most difficult tasks an engineer faces is making it easy.
Simple is hard but often best.