Design

Simplicity on the other side of complexity

Yesterday in the middle of a long and meandering conversation, a friend said what he likes about Tapp is that we have found simplicity on the other side of complexity.

Boom. This came out of nowhere and hit me on an emotional level, even before my analytical brain could parse what it means. With Tapp we have found simplicity on the other side of complexity.

(The internet attributes this to a bunch of people so I’m not sure who I’m plagiarizing… perhaps Oliver Wendell Holmes.)

We all get that simplicity is important, but (ironically) I think we oversimplify what that means. The strength of simplicity is not in hacking off all the “extras” and only keeping a pared-down (dumbed-down?) core. Simplicity is valuable when you get there by embracing complexity, identifying the problems it creates, and gradually finding elegant, nuanced, simple solutions to those problems.

I like Don Draper’s approach to this: “Think about it deeply, and then forget it. An idea will jump up in your face” – except that he makes it sound easy. And simple is anything but easy. In our experience the “think deeply” stage is a long, hard struggle through emotional ups and downs, self doubt (and each-other doubt), and a huge amount of creative energy. It’s only after working through all the obvious answers that you can get to the really imaginative, simple ones.

For Tapp this process meant learning that some of our fundamental assumptions were wrong (e.g. that the customer wants a fast water filter), doing a whole lot of learning on some obscure subjects (Kevin spent a week just on O-rings, and several on glues), and making stacks of mechanical drawings. We 3D-printed countless prototypes. We came up with eight distinct designs for the filter’s internal machinery, each giving us the same functionality with completely different mechanisms. We didn’t want the most obvious design, but the best design.

The highs that come with a breakthrough are something special – like when we figured out how to make a backwash mechanism without the user having to turn any valves. And overall, the outcome is a product that we believe in with a passion we couldn’t have expected.