De Bono's Simplicity Principles

A long while back, I stumbled upon a snippet of wisdom. Fortunately, I wrote it down, because the website that held this info is down. I have managed to track down the source to a Mr. Edward de Bono. His book, “Simplicity“, is available at Amazon.

The snippet of wisdom is related to achieving simplicity in designs. I am storing it here as much for your convenience, as for mine.

Simplicity Principles

  1. You need to put a high value on simplicity
    To get simplicity you have to want to get it. To want to get simplicity you have to put a high value on simplicity.
  2. You must be determined to seek simplicity
    People quite like simplicity if it does not cost anything but are usually unwilling to invest resources in making something more simple.
  3. You need to understand the matter very well
    If you do not seek to understand a situation or process, your efforts will be ‘simplistic’ rather than simple. Simplicity before understanding is worthless.
  4. You need to design alternatives
    It is not a matter of designing the ‘one right way’. It is more a matter of designing alternatives and possibilities, and then selecting one of them.
  5. You need to challenge and discard existing elements
    Everything needs to justify its continued existence. If you wish to retain something for the sake of tradition let that be a conscious decision.
  6. You need to be prepared to start over again
    In the search for Simplicity, modify if you can – start afresh if you cannot.
  7. You need to use concepts
    Concepts are the human mind’s way of simplifying the world around. Warning: If you do not use concepts, then you are working with detail.
  8. You may need to break things down into smaller units
    The organisation of a smaller unit is obviously simpler than the organisation of a large unit. The smaller units are themselves organised to serve the larger purpose.
  9. You need to be prepared to trade off other values for simplicity
    A system that seeks to be totally comprehensive may be very complex. You may need to trade off that comprehensiveness for simplicity.
  10. You need to know for whose sake the simplicity is being designed
    A shift of complexity may mean that a system is made easier for the customer but much more complicated for the operator.

19 thoughts on “De Bono's Simplicity Principles”

  1. Chris says:

    Holy shit.

    Joen, you have no idea how much each of those ten points is, I feel, reflected in my latest little project. That’s some freaky karma going on right there my friend.

  2. Joen says:

    Well, some of those rules are pretty general in scope. But it’s still nice to “get it down” on paper.

    Maybe I should PDF these.

  3. Tristan says:

    I love these. They’re useful not only for design, but also for programming (the definition of abstraction is, essentially, #8), and for life in general (#6, #3, and #5 are the ones that happen to apply to me in particular).

    Complexity in general is a subject I’ve always been interested in; like, for instance, how a system at some point becomes complex beyond our capacity to understand. It makes my brain tingle just thinking about it.

    The beauty of the whole art of simplicity is that we can make (most) complex systems fit within our little brains to the extent that we need them, basically paring down the system to something managable, comprehensible, and useful. These 10 things are great tips for that task, which is often the whole problem. Thanks for posting them.

  4. Joen says:

    Glad you could use’em Tristan. Indeed they apply not only to designs, but to larger perspectives as well. That’s why I find them so useful.

  5. John Oxton says:

    Nice post Joen very useful and so simple! 🙂

    loving the design tweak by the way!

  6. kjsgirl says:

    These principles don’t just apply to design, methinks. Great post. Something helpful to your fellow human beings out there 🙂

  7. Joen says:


    My inspiration for posting snippets like these comes from a good friend of mine. From time to time, he posts tips such as how to make Adobe Reader boot faster — as a “note to self” that others can use as well. It’s really a good idea.

  8. Robertson Odom says:

    Thank you very much

    Thank you


  9. Chris says:

    surely simplicity will lose out to flashy designs, to dreams of grandeur engendered by endless budgets, to the ego of every designer, and because of the ignorance of each client?

  10. Joen says:

    Oh but Chris, that is where the good designer excels! Remember, when we do client work, we are not just designers, we are also consultants and we have to advise them. Of course sometimes they do not listen to reason…

    Reminds me of a fantastic Frasier quote:

    But if less is more, think about how much more more is!

  11. Torsten Asmussen says:

    Simplicity is not a simple thing

    Charles Chaplin

  12. minncognito says:

    well said, Torsten…or, well relayed, rather. 🙂

  13. Michael says:

    Being a student film maker I find that films which use simple tools–such as good dialogue and camera movement–are far more satisfying than those which go for the biggest stunts. Wonderful principles!

  14. Paresh Shah says:

    Has any one used the concepts while reviewing processes in an organisation? Would appreciate any inputs in this regard.


  15. demola says:

    I stumbled on this debono from a book that refers to his satement. and reading it again kind of refreshes my memory on this word simplicity. It’s really worth a thought.

  16. At least I can simply google and get the gist of it –

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