Claude Mulindi

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The Arc of Simplicity

Good design (and good ideas) seem to follow an arc of simplicity. They begin as naively simple, become functionally complex, then reemerge as elegantly simple.

Consider the design of the Aeropress - a hybrid between a French press and Espresso machine.

A French press offers a modestly simple solution - steeping grounds in a container then trapping them by pressing down a filter. While straightforward, grit always finds itself in the filtrate, and cleanup is a hassle.

An Espresso machine is a functionally complex solution. Hot pressurized water is forced through ground coffee in a temperature controlled process. It extracts the most flavor, but is costly, requires maintenance, and has a learning curve.

The Aeropress combines the pressure generating intricacy of the Espresso machine with the no-frills form factor of the French press, resulting in an elegantly simple solution. Air pressure is manually exerted by pressing a plunger down a chamber, forcing hot water through coffee grounds. Its portable, requires little cleanup, and doesn't let any grit through.

The comparison between the three might be unfair given they each excel in different contexts. But I'm convinced the design of the Aeropress - inspired by its predecessors - offers an imperfect analogy for the arc of simplicity.

Iterating through the naive simplicity of the French Press, followed by the functional complexity of the Espresso machine, was necessary before eventually unlearning - stripping away each component, leaving behind only the core simple idea.

We start by simply being naive. We strive to be profoundly simple.

“For the simplicity on this side of complexity, I wouldn't give you a fig. But for the simplicity on the other side of complexity, for that I would give you anything I have.” - Oliver Wendell Holmes