Simple for you, befuddling for me: confessions of a former simpoholic

April 8, 2011

"Make it as simple as Google." One of my former clients started off our meeting with this declarative request as we were getting ready to take him through a "simplification exercise" to fix his very convoluted database. Clearly, this gentleman had in his own mind an internal benchmark of what simple meant to him. Our team, on the other hand, wasn't able to articulate in such clear language what the output of our work would actually be. It occurred to me that as a purveyor of simplified communications, I wasn't making it totally clear what simplicity really meant.


Azudalgia / CC BY 2.0

Following on from that experience, I decided to create a series of simplicity benchmarks. To do so, I created a semi-objective rank-ordering of well-known communications that we encounter in our lives. Using a 1 through 10 scale is the simplest I could think of, where 1 represents a no-brainer communication and a 10 is as painful as your worst migraine. Here, then, is an elegantly simple list of everyday communications and our rankings based on three simple criteria:

For this exercise, I limited it to
1) output communications rather than inputs like forms
2) communications that traditionally show up on paper, rather than purely digital communications.

  1. Driver's license

  2. The Yellow Pages

  3. Nutrition Facts (and its companion Drug Facts)

  4. Auto insurance policies, especially the declarations page

  5. Checking account statements from your bank

  6. Last will and testament from your attorney

  7. Brokerage account statements, especially if you hold many securities

  8. Explanation of benefits from healthcare provider

  9. Credit card disclosures

  10. The IRS booklet, no longer mailed to our homes but is a fixture around this time of year

I'd like to hear your views.

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