Content Vs. Style, Complexity Vs. Simplicity

Started pondering the various swings in popular culture last night and the unintended consequences lots of little decisions make upon our lives. The biggest of these that came to mind are the various oxymoron’s that pervade our culture and thinking processes. The first of these examples is what Joseph Pine of Experience Economy and Mass Customization notoriety called out. We are moving to a culture of experiences and small personalization to establish our identities. A simple look around one see lots of individually customized devices, yet they somehow all look the same. In the mélange of customizations that our devices enable as a whole the look and behave relatively the same. In the sixties young people would state that everyone one looked the same in a suite and they were going to be different. I would hazard to say those “radicals” once they all got together all looked the same also. In the end the hippy cloths were just another uniform to identify with a community which yields a portion of someone’s identity.

This sounds rather harsh, inferring that people are shallow and only concern with style over substance. I look at what magazines, articles and media information is most popular should confirm that. I believe porn, celebrity news and fashion categories are still on the top of the most view information on the net. And if we go the point closer to the technology world, Apple, once considered a one the ropes and a technology simpleton (not my label but others who had branded them such) has emerged to be at the top of the capital pyramid above Oracle and Microsoft, all based upon Steve Job’s attention to style. If one strips down the latest Apple technology it is very basic, little room for variability most of the decisions are made for you. Yet consumers loved it because you could add little applets to personalize your experience. Apple even created an exchange, closed market, where you could buy customizations. Purchasing these provided an additional revenue stream above and beyond the original device. Think of this as the Printer Cartage market dynamic model converted to software.

Now the interesting hypocrisy of our thinking. Many love the ability to purchase and piece together just the applets we want for the experience, but when it comes to the Air Travel we’re upset with the unbundling of the services (e.g., Seats selection, Meals, Baggage, etc.) An interesting change of perceptions depending upon the context.

Now many would infer I’m unfairly beating up on Apple, calling their products simplistic and almost inferring they are toys. I will admit I have friends that are: Any Buddy but [IBM, Microsoft, Apple, Oracle, …] you put the company title in. I however look at the intention behind the result; make it achieve the function easily from the user’s perspective (i.e., simplicity). Having been in the complexity business for years –hopefully fighting against it, not fostering it—I’ll state a maxim that was once told to me be a mentoring engineer: “Complexity is easy, Simplicity is hard” Watching the evolution of devices from Apple I am impressed with their focus to that implied mantra “make it easy for the end user”.

With that little bit of insight, I wonder how much are we trying to do the same in our roles as of late vs. complicate things for other to make it easy for ourselves?

Strategies for managing your legacy –Lessons learned from the past


The situation was a common one in the late 70s early 80s. A company had tens of thousands of drawings or plots generated from a now out of service CAD application making these also a paper legacy. When the new Electronic Engineering Environment was installed it was theorized and assumed that these legacy data should be incorporated into the new CAD database. Literature from numerous vendors seemed to confirm the possibility of such a goal.

Feasibility analysis determined this was not as economically desirable as initially thought. True you would have all the drawings in a new CAD database. However, the cost of import, conversion, and quality assurance for all the drawings was significant given the quantity of drawings built up in the library over the years. Making this strategy even less desirable was the fact that only a small percentage of these drawings would ever be needed in electronic form for modification or digital simulation. The problem was determining which ones.


The strategy to solve this quandary was to enable the management of the legacy data without having to digitize it, and then import/convert only those drawings needed in digital format just prior to usage. While the CAD manager did not know which drawings were needed well in advance, he did know a week or two prior to usage. This advanced notification was just enough time for a Just-in-Time import and conversion activity.


The solution to implement this strategy was to create database and a rapid retrieval, import and conversion process. The database would be an online searchable database containing the inventory of all the drawings and plots. The retrieval, import and conversion process would also enable employees to request product data in legacy format or request import and conversion.


The results were dramatic.

  • The database application resulted in better management of existing drawings as it identified the drawing ID, location, format, and status enabling employees to retrieve a drawing faster regardless storage format/location.
  • By not having all the legacy drawings in the CAD system it reduced those in the active storage resulting in less electronic clutter and improved system performance.
  • Delaying the cost of import, conversion and quality assurance transformed the activity from a capital investment creating a library of limited use into an operational expense used on demand. This reduced the initial cost outlay as well as spread the cost over multiple years when a digital version was needed.