Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Simplicity in Design

At times, I use the white board at my workstation to scribble interesting quotes that appeal to me. A few weeks ago, I wrote this one:

"There are two ways of constructing a software design. One way is to make it so simple that there are obviously no deficiencies. And the other way is to make it so complicated that there are no obvious deficiencies. (Charles Hoare)."

The quote led to an interesting discussion amongst the ones who read it. The curious question was – what is ‘simple’ design. I pondered for a while. I knew that simplicity was far complex than I thought. I wanted to understand what is means to have simplicity in content design, media design, functional design, web design, and any other design that we ought to do! So I started my journey to explore what is simple design…here is what I found on my way. An interesting definition.

This is an excerpt taken from an article titled,
“Keep it simple, stupid!” by Pär Almqvist.

A Definition of Simplicity
"What is simplicity? It could be defined as "the absence of unnecessary elements," or even shorter "the essence." Simplicity doesn't equal boring. Simplicity doesn't equal shallow. Simplicity is especially important when designing information- and media-rich interfaces. Simplicity isn't a design style, it's a perspective on design, an approach which often creates the most beautiful and the most usable results. A common mistake is to think that obtaining simplicity is a matter of reduction, of reducing something which is more complete than the "simple" end result. On the contrary, simplicity requires serious thought and effort. As I wrote in my article
Fragments of time; "A modern paradox is that it's simpler to create complex interfaces because it's so complex to simplify them."

How to Obtain Simplicity
Simplicity isn't easy to obtain. I have, however, roughly devised a formula that lays the foundation for simplicity. Albert Einstein said; "If A is to succeed in life, then A = x + y + z. Work is x, y is play and z is to listen.
"A functioning formula for simplicity (where A equals simplicity) could be A = x + y + z. x is good research and prototyping, y is play and z is the reduction of unnecessary elements."

In the above definition, the author reiterates that simplicity requires thought and effort. Another example to support this definition is
here, where the author (Nika Smith) discusses the evolution of Gmail chat and specifically how the Gmail chat window was designed.

The author reiterates,
“Often, the features we launch seem so simple that you might think they're the result of blatantly obvious design decisions. In fact, every feature is subjected to a healthy dose of scrutiny within the Gmail team, and usually that includes rapidly iterating on designs by collecting user feedback, learning what works and what doesn't, and improving on our work based on this knowledge.”

From what I gathered, I believe simple designs:-
- appear intuitive and easy to make - but they take time to build
- involve multiple iterations of review and feedback
- are meant for the purpose (meet requirements)
- are naturally usable
- have more impact because they have less distractions

I hope to continue on this journey towards simple designs. I may have to infact start with my life first - as the teachings of Zen highlight - "try and do less each day" to make a move towards simplicity!

Thursday, July 10, 2008

New Work Literacies - Leading the Way

This months Learning Circuits question is who takes the leadership role around new work literacies. Specifically: - Should workplace learning professionals be leading the charge around these new work literacies? -Shouldn't they be starting with themselves and helping to develop it throughout the organizations? -And then shouldn't the learning organization become a driver for the organization? - And like in the world of libraries don't we need to market ourselves in this capacity?

I agree with all these questions and my response is a whole-hearted YES. Yes, I am responsible for all of this. I was a bit surprised that we are debating about these because somehow, I never thought anyone else is going to be doing this in my organization! Yes, I, as a learning professional would like to lead the charge around these new work literacies. Yes, I have started with myself and hope to help it develop in my organization. Yes, I take the responsibility to drive the use of the new work literacies and yes, just for libraries and everything else in life – I need to market this too.

As a learning professional, I expect myself to introduce my organization to all new in learning - new tools and technologies included. In that sense, yes, I lead the way. But I don’t want to be a consultant who doesn’t know what she’s talking. I don’t want to be a learning professional who is sitting on the fence and talking about new tools and technologies and hasn’t used any! So, I use and experiment with these technologies in my own way – for example, I write my own blog, contribute to group blogs, use Wiki and Google to learn, have an identity on facebook, and an avtar in second life – I am trying to try it all – to experience, explore, and learn, and to share my learning with my organization. While I explore these to develop my own personal learning environment, I hope to help my organization use some of these and develop them as learning opportunities available to everyone in my organization. I feel, that somewhere, somehow, the learning revolution and acceptance of new tools and technologies has to start with me – as an individual. Unless I try to explore the possibilities, I will never be able to build a business case around the use of these technologies for the organization as a whole. So, yes, I lead the charge, start with myself, and hope to develop it for my organization.

Now about the learning organization being the driver for the organization. Well, yes – but only when learning is aligned to the organizational goals, it can really drive anything! For the organization to trust the learning professionals and consider us as ‘learning advisors’, it is important that we as learning professionals are aware of what we can bring forth to the table. We need to know what is happening in the learning world and what can we do to help our organization make correct, well thought-about learning decisions – which positively impact the business decisions. Our real value lies in helping the organization grow better, faster. The new tools and technologies can serve as stepping-stones to this path of success.

About marketing – well, in today’s world everything needs to be marketed! I feel, we are all salespersons and we are all in the business of selling our thoughts. We do it all the time, whether we know it or not. So, yes, to develop the tools and technologies and help them become new work literacies, I will need to market them. I have started small – market my own blog, share learning links with teams, talk about emerging trends learning in forums, and discussions, and over coffee conversations. I also have realized that all marketing becomes easy when the consumer sees the value of the product/service. Therefore, as a learning professional, I am striving to arrive at the value of everything that I propose to my organization including the new tools and technologies.

So, whether it is initiating formal learning, informal learning, Web 2.0 or anything else and everything else to do with learning – I willingly take the responsibility for leading the change – for myself, and my organization.