The Simplicity Cycle by Dan Ward

A book review by Daniel R. Murphy - Post 1004

Book of the Month for June 2016

Title and Author:   

The Simplicity Cycle – A Field Guide to Making Things Better Without Making Them Worse by Dan Ward

Synopsis of Content:  

Greater complexity does not necessarily make things better. This is the message of Dan Ward’s book. This is a book about design in its broadest sense. It is about designing gadgets, machines, systems, procedures and even books. It is about elegant design. Getting the most from the least.

Ward argues that there is an optimum balance between complexity and what he calls “goodness” which is an inclusive word meaning convenience, ease of use, elegant design, effectiveness and any number of other adjectives we would use to describe a good design. In its simplest form our effort to attain more goodness in something usually brings about more complexity. We reach a point however, often fairly quickly, when the added complexity reduces the overall goodness of what we are trying to improve.

Ward is an engineer and brings an engineer’s perspective to design. He uses X/Y graphs to illustrate how complexity can defeat goodness. His approach is analytical. He explains how and when greater complexity is necessary to achieve our objective and when it makes things worse.

Though Ward seeks simplicity he does not view it as the end all. He acknowledges that some complexity is needed for some things to work well, that is to be good. His objective is to minimize complexity especially when the added complexity makes the design less good.

He also writes that attaining the best design is a process that involves adding complexity at first, then reducing it through a process of experimentation until the design does the best with the least complexity – otherwise it is the most elegant. This process of adding complexity and then trimming it is the simplicity cycle.

What I found useful about this book:

I love this book. It is about elegant design principles that can be applied to anything we design from a recipe for making brownies to building a fighter jet. As I read the book I could think of hundreds of applications of the simplicity cycle in many of the things I do on a daily basis. Make any process as easy to follow as possible, as convenient as possible and as effective as possible – it is a beautiful idea.

Readability/Writing Quality:  

Though written by an engineer the book is very readable for those of us with no design or engineering background. There are no complicated mathematical formulae. The book is well organized and flows well. It is, as we should expect from this author, well designed. It is as simple as it can be and still get the full message across.

Notes on Author:  

Dan Ward is an engineer with three engineering degrees, a consultant and an author. He has worked for the US Air Force where he spent over 20 years researching, developing and testing military equipment.

Other Books by This Author:

F.I.R.E – How Fast, Inexpensive, Restrained, and Elegant Methods Ignite Innovation.

Related Website:

Three Great Ideas You Can Use:  

  1. Simplicity is not the point, goodness is. Everything we design should have the most goodness with the level of complexity only needed to attain the most goodness.
  2. Elegant design must come from a process of adding, refining and reducing complexity while maintaining and improving the goodness. It is about ultimate goodness.
  3. Creating more elegant designs requires a very specific mindset. One must view difficulty as a signpost that change is needed and possible rather than as unavoidable.

Publication Information:  

Title and Author: The Simplicity Cycle – A Field Guide to Making Things Better Without Making Them Worse by Dan Ward
Copyright holder: ©2015 by Dan Ward
Publisher: Harper Collins


Wishing you well,

Daniel R. Murphy
Educating people for building wealth, adapting to a changing future and personal development.