The KISS principle

In one of my newspaper design courses in college, our professor would write “KISS” on our papers if our layouts were cluttered — not enough space around an image, more than two typefaces — or overly complicated. KISS is an acronym that he used meaning, “Keep it simple, stupid.” Since that course, I’ve learned of a few other definitions for the final S in KISS, but they all express a similar sentiment.

The KISS principle has helped me a great deal with my productivity over the years. Whenever I lose sight of the fundamental elements of a project, I remind myself to keep it simple. I don’t allow myself to add anything beyond the most basic elements of the project until I’m 100 percent finished with that simple, first deliverable. Then, if I have time remaining, I can go back and add features that aren’t essential (if I even decide to do them at all).

Surprisingly, I’ve found the KISS principle to be more difficult to embrace as a manager of others’ work. I’ll see part of a deliverable and then want the person to go back and have the first part enhanced before seeing the rest of the completed work. If I don’t fight this urge, I end up wasting other people’s time, and can drain my budget before the project is finished. To get around this, I tell the people I’m working with that they are supposed to remind me of the KISS principle. I greatly respect the vendors and employees who have said to me, “Erin, I’m supposed to remind you to keep things simple and let me finish the basic project first.”

Beyond working on projects, I’ve found the KISS principle to be extremely beneficial in other areas of life. If I’m doing programming work, I tend to have fewer bugs in my code if I keep things as simple as possible. If I’m trying to clean something in my home, I always start with the least caustic cleaner first. When choosing between two items of clothing in a store, I always choose the one that is the easiest fabric to maintain.

What can you do in your work or home life to implement the KISS principle? Are you losing sight of the fundamentals and adding flourishes before finishing the basics? How do you keep things simple?

7 Comments for “The KISS principle”

  1. posted by Adam | on

    Great post Erin. It’s always helpful to be reminded of the “KISS” principle. There are so many areas of life where it could and should be applied. Quite frankly, I can’t think of any areas in my personal life that couldn’t benefit from greater simplicity.

    As one example, I try to apply the principle of KISS when spending time with my son. I just want to have fun with him. It’s that simple. Having fun with your son doesn’t have to be fancy, complicated, expensive, or even terribly original. It doesn’t require amazing creativity and it typically doesn’t involve big trips or expensive tickets. You just need to get out and take a walk, ride a bike, or play a card game. I share this philosophy of “simple fun” with other through my blog as well.

    Thanks again for the reminder. It’s an important one.


    Adam (AKA “Dad”)

  2. posted by chacha1 on

    PEEP and FWYS are the biggest keys to KISS for me. 🙂
    PEEP of course everyone here knows. FWYS is “finish what you start.” I know there are other crafty unclutterers out there who have the UFO (Un Finished Object) syndrome.

    For me it’s difficult, and therefore necessary, to completely wrap up a project before allowing myself to start the next one. There’s little more cluttery, frustrating, and confusing than having multiple projects on the go, when each could easily be finished in a sitting or two.

  3. posted by Cynthia Friedlob, The Thoughtful Consumer on

    I think that “finish what you start” is important to remember when uncluttering, too. It’s so easy to get carried away if you’re not focused on a specific uncluttering project. Then you end up with all kinds of stuff spread out everywhere and feel worse than than you did before beginning to unclutter! I speak from experience!

  4. posted by Karen on

    I’m reading the book The Laws of Simplicity, by John Maeda. A wonderfully concise commentary on simplifying our lives.

  5. posted by WilliamB on

    I try to KISS by focusing on blockages – what is it that makes it harder to what I want (or is best for me)? Then figure out how to get rid of that block.

    Here’s an example. I want to use rags instead of paper towels but I’m not doing that yet. Why not? It took me a while to figure out: I keep the paper towel holder on the counter but rags in a cabinet that is obscured by a hanging towel. So I need to either find a way to keep rags on the counter (without being unsightly) or find a better drawer/cabinet for the rags. Still working on this one but I’ll get there.

  6. posted by An improvised dish or two « Table for the World on

    […] with baby bok choy, garlic, and shrimp.  Finally, some Asian dishes following my favorite KISS rule: Keep It Simple, Stupid.  To quote from my favoritest (yes, I’m making that a word) movie of all time: […]

  7. posted by To be done with to-do’s… « Robin Dini on

    […] an important action is not on your list, you’ll worry about it unnecessarily. Also, remember the KISS principle and get the most important work done […]

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