The elegance of simplicity

“People don’t understand the elegance of simplicity,” Willis said once. “If you take a sophisticated idea, reduce it to the simplest possible terms so that it’s accessible to everybody, and don’t get simple mixed up with simplistic, it’s how you mount and present something that makes it engaging.” – Gordon Willis, the great cinematographer who died on the 18th of May 2014, in a piece by the Paris Review

That’s precisely what I strive for when writing copy, planning a project, giving a presentation, taking a photograph. Finding the essence of an idea and expressing it simply, elegantly.

Sometimes it’s an agonising process, but one feels so profoundly satisfied when it all falls into place.

The elegance of simplicity

Statement of principles

Focusing on making a partnership work is more profitable than focusing on making money.

Love your employees more than you love your clients.

The best new business is your current business.

Price projects by asking yourself what the client’s lawyer would charge.

It’s better to be hired for your work than for your price.

When it comes to getting paid, the first of the month is better than the thirtieth.

Making money off mechanicals, printing and computers turns your business into a commodity.

The books in your library are more important than the numbers on your balance sheet.

In order to love your work, take vacations.

Power, in business, comes from sharing money and valuing love.

Insights about business by late William Drenttel from a 1991 talk he gave at the AIGA National Design Conference in Chicago.

Something for me to remember as I return to work I love from a week’s holiday mooching about London, taking pictures, catching up on cinema and relaxing.

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The idea is that you need a ton of website visitors, then some of them become become leads, and then after you do something (the usual recommendation is to bombard the leads with marketing automation) they relent and pay you money, thus becoming a ‘customer.’ 

I hate this, because it’s shortsighted.

– by Ben Chestnut of MailChimp & TinyLetter

I see this sort of scattershot, cynical approach from marketers all the time. It’s irritating, illogical and counterproductive.

Love your customers.

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Writing is a process of dealing with not-knowing, a forcing of what and how. We have all heard novelists testify to the fact that, beginning a new book, they are utterly baffled as to how to proceed, what should be written and how it might be written, even though they’ve done a dozen. At best there’s a slender intuition, not much greater than an itch. The anxiety attached to this situation is not inconsiderable. “Nothing to paint and nothing to paint with,” as Beckett says of Brain van Velde. The not-knowing is not simple, because it’s hedged about with prohibitions, roads that may not be taken. The more serious the artist, the more problems he takes into account and the more considerations limit his possible initiatives–a point to which I shall return.

“Not-Knowing" by Donald Barthelme deftly describes the challenges and mysteries we all face when creating stories, photographs or indeed products
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“What do I want?” – the first question in product development (and life)

As an actor, the most powerful question to ask oneself is “what does my character want?” Every subsequent choice the character makes flows from the answer. If an actor is lost in a scene, returning to this question will quickly focus one’s performance on something specific and vital.

The same guiding question applies to finding a new job, working with clients, negotiation and sales or product development. Knowing what a client or customer wants focusses everything that follows on making a genuinely useful and commercially successful product. Muddled decisions that delight no one and frustrate everyone result from not clearly understanding what one wants.

User-centred design returns again and again to “what does the user want?” To orient myself when reviewing a wireframe, design or piece of development, I chose a persona, “get into character” and ask myself as the user "what do I want?“ Everything – decisions about the onboarding flow, the placement of widgets and controls, the most relevant data to visualise, everything – starts there. 

Do you know what you want – and do you know what your customers want?

“What do I want?” – the first question in product development (and life)

Cinema is a specificity of vision. It’s an approach in which everything matters. It’s the polar opposite of generic or arbitrary and the result is as unique as a signature or a fingerprint. It isn’t made by a committee, and it isn’t made by a company, and it isn’t made by the audience. It means that if this filmmaker didn’t do it, it either wouldn’t exist at all, or it wouldn’t exist in anything like this form.

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If I may be so bold, it was a mistake for you to accept promotion. Commanding a starship is your first, best destiny. Anything else is a waste of material.

Spock to Kirk in “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan”
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