the KISS principle

you must remember this, a kiss is just a kiss

I was first introduced to the KISS principle by my MD in a former job who repeated this mantra on an almost daily basis. I learnt a lot from him, some of which probably isn’t repeatable in a polite blog post, but this particular phrase stuck in my mind to the extent where I still use it today when speaking to clients or when I need to give myself a stern reminder to stop overcomplicating things!

KISS is an acronym for “Keep it simple, stupid”. The comma is optional but the sentiment is always the same;  the KISS principle states that most systems work best if they are kept simple rather than made complex; therefore simplicity should be a key goal in design and unnecessary complexity should be avoided. It was reportedly coined by Kelly Johnson, lead engineer at the Lockheed Skunk Works, creators of the Lockheed U-2 and SR-71 Blackbird spy planes, among others. I’d never thought to look at its history before so apologies for any inaccuracies and please feel free to take them up with Wikipedia!

The story goes that Johnson handed a team of design engineers a selection of tools and challenged them to ensure that the jet aircraft they were designing could be repairable by an average mechanic in the field under combat conditions with only these tools. A common misconception is that the stupid refers negatively to whoever is attempting to do what is required, Johnson’s reading of it referred more to the fact that something should be fixable through the least sophisticated means available. In other words, when you create something you should make it as easy as possible for someone to recreate, or at least be able to explain it, in the simplest terms possible.

At this point I’ll admit that aviation design, particularly in the military stealth sector, isn’t really my strong point, but the KISS principle has been picked up across the decades in many different areas. Disney’s ‘Nine Old Men’ write about it in “Disney Animation: The Illusion of Life”, considered to be the animators’ bible. KISS is also acknowledged as a major factor in the field of software development with companies always looking for the next simplification process.

I don’t design radar defying aircraft. I’m not involved in the animation for the latest Pixar movie, although I wish I was. And my knowledge of software development is frankly non-existent. I’m a ‘creative type’, a copywriter, an ‘ideas man’. But the one thing my job has in common with all these others is the need to simplify, to self-edit and keep things succinct, simple and… well, not stupid maybe, but at least straight-forward.

I’m always asking myself three simple questions about every job I work on, whether it’s content for a website, the copy for a press ad, an article, advertorial or eshot; who am I talking to? What do I want them to do? Why should they do it? It relates to every advertising, marketing or branding message you’ve ever experienced and it’s the easiest way to keep things simple… stupid!

So the next time you find yourself overcomplicating things, give yourself a KISS.

Written by the sometimes-needlessly-complicated Leigh Taylor, Head of Content & Creative.

Categories: Design

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