Keep It Simple, Stupid (KISS)

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What is Keep It Simple, Stupid (KISS)?

Keep it simple, stupid (KISS) is a design principle which states that designs and/or systems should be as simple as possible. Wherever possible, complexity should be avoided in a system—as simplicity guarantees the greatest levels of user acceptance and interaction. KISS is used in a variety of disciplines, such as interface design, product design, and software development.

KISS - Keep it Simple, Stupid illustrated as a simple smartphone app design

© Interaction Design Foundation, CC BY-SA 4.0

The term was first used in the US Navy and is thought to have been coined by Kelly Johnson, who was the lead engineer at the Lockheed Skunk Works. Johnson told the designers at Lockheed that their designs should be simple enough to be repaired by a man in a combat situation with only some basic mechanic’s training and simple tools. If their products weren’t simple and easy to understand, they would not only cost lives but also quickly become obsolete in combat conditions and thus worthless. In the world of user experience design and related disciplines, the KISS principle borrows from such a scenario in that users who tend to lead busy lives will quickly abandon a complex design. In the case of designing for mobile devices—where the users’ context finds them operating their phones with their fingers, often with one hand—this philosophy is even more vital to follow.

The KISS principle also exists in other variations with the same meaning. Examples are “Keep it short and simple” and “Keep it simple and straightforward.” Though both phrases technically introduce an “A” into the acronym, they both deliver the same message as “Keep it simple, stupid.” The objective of any process is to deliver the simplest possible outcome. As such, the KISS principle speaks to flowing with the intuition of any new user, easing in nuances with care.

Questions related to Keep It Simple, Stupid (KISS)

What is an example of the KISS principle?

An excellent example of the KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid) principle is the design of Apple products. Apple emphasizes simplicity and user-friendly interfaces, allowing users of any level to operate their products with ease. By eliminating unnecessary elements and focusing on functionality and intuitive design, they embody the KISS principle, making their products accessible and desirable to a broad user base. Learn more about the KISS principle in design here.

What is the KISS method in the military?

The KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid) method in the military refers to the principle of designing systems and strategies that are simple, straightforward, and devoid of unnecessary complexity. The method emphasizes the importance of easily understandable and executable plans and designs to avoid misunderstandings, errors, and complications, ensuring the swift and effective accomplishment of objectives. This principle is universally applicable and is valued in numerous fields, including design, for its emphasis on clarity and ease of use.

Why is the KISS principle important?

The KISS principle is important because it is directly related to product success. If our users can’t understand a product, they will not use it. Not only is it relevant for the end user experience, but it is relevant for product managers as well—the more complexity we build into our products, the harder it will be to maintain it.

Is the KISS principle the same as Occam's razor?

No, the KISS principle isn't the same as Occam's razor, but they share similarities. The KISS principle in design emphasizes simplicity, advising to avoid unnecessary complexity. In contrast, Occam's razor is a principle in problem-solving that states when we have multiple alternatives, we should opt for the simpler one. Both principles value simplicity but apply to different contexts. Occam’s Razor has a more strategic scope and focuses on overall solutions and decision-making, KISS applies to more tactical level work. For a deeper understanding of Occam's razor, refer to this article: Occam's Razor: The Simplest Solution Is Always the Best.

What is the KISS vs DRY principle?

The KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid) principle advises keeping designs simple and avoiding unnecessary complexity, making them user-friendly. Conversely, the DRY (Don't Repeat Yourself) principle is a software development concept focusing on reducing the repetition of code patterns, making codebases more manageable and efficient. While KISS emphasizes simplicity in design and user interaction, DRY focuses on efficiency and manageability in code development. They are distinct principles addressing different aspects of the design and development processes.

What is the difference between YAGNI and KISS?

The KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid) principle emphasizes simplicity and clarity in design, advocating for user-friendly solutions. On the other hand, YAGNI (You Aren’t Gonna Need It) is a programming principle stressing not to add functionality until deemed necessary. While KISS focuses on the overall simplicity of design and user interaction, YAGNI specifically addresses avoiding unnecessary code and features in software development. Both aim to prevent overcomplication but apply to different aspects of the design and development process.

How do you apply the KISS principle in your life?

To apply the KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid) principle in your life, focus on simplifying tasks and setting clear, attainable goals. Break complex tasks into manageable steps, avoid overthinking, and prioritize simplicity and clarity in decision-making. By embracing simplicity in daily routines, goals, and choices, you enhance efficiency, reduce stress, and improve overall quality of life. Keep solutions straightforward, declutter your environment, and maintain a clear, focused mind to effectively incorporate the KISS principle into your lifestyle.

Where to learn Keep it Simple Stupid (KISS)?

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To learn the Keep It Simple Stupid (KISS) principle, consider enrolling in the User Experience: The Beginner’s Guide and Conducting Usability Testing courses at Interaction Design Foundation. These courses offer comprehensive insights into creating simple, user-friendly designs and conducting effective usability tests.

Literature on Keep It Simple, Stupid (KISS)

Here’s the entire UX literature on Keep It Simple, Stupid (KISS) by the Interaction Design Foundation, collated in one place:

Learn more about Keep It Simple, Stupid (KISS)

Take a deep dive into Keep It Simple, Stupid (KISS) with our course Human-Computer Interaction: The Foundations of UX Design .

Interactions between products/designs/services on one side and humans on the other should be as intuitive as conversations between two humans—and yet many products and services fail to achieve this. So, what do you need to know so as to create an intuitive user experience? Human psychology? Human-centered design? Specialized design processes? The answer is, of course, all of the above, and this course will cover them all.

Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) will give you the skills to properly understand, and design, the relationship between the “humans”, on one side, and the “computers” (websites, apps, products, services, etc.), on the other side. With these skills, you will be able to build products that work more efficiently and therefore sell better. In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts the IT and Design-related occupations will grow by 12% from 2014–2024, faster than the average for all occupations. This goes to show the immense demand in the market for professionals equipped with the right design skills.

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In the “Build Your Portfolio: Interaction Design Project”, you’ll find a series of practical exercises that will give you first-hand experience of the methods we’ll cover. If you want to complete these optional exercises, you’ll create a series of case studies for your portfolio which you can show your future employer or freelance customers.

This in-depth, video-based course is created with the amazing Alan Dix, the co-author of the internationally best-selling textbook Human-Computer Interaction and a superstar in the field of Human-Computer Interaction. Alan is currently professor and Director of the Computational Foundry at Swansea University.    

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