KISS principle – definition and meaning

In the term KISS principle, the letters ‘KISS’ stand for Keep it Simple, Stupid. It was a design principle that originated in the United States in the 1960s. It means that most systems work best if you keep them simple. In other words, do not complicate a simple system that works. Otherwise, it probably won’t work so well.

Put simply; the KISS principle says that simplicity is the key goal when designing something. We should avoid complexity.

Clarence Leonard ‘Kelly’ Johnson (1910-1990) first coined the term ‘KISS principle.’ Johnson was an American aeronautical and systems engineer.

He worked on the aircraft designs of the Lockheed U-2 and SR-71 Blackbird. He also produced the first fighter-capable Mach 2 airplane.

Johnson, however, did not use a comma when he wrote ‘Keep it Simple Stupid.’

Principles Wiki tells us that the letters KISS also stand for ‘Keep it Short and Simple‘ or ‘Keep it Simple and Straightforward.’ In fact, they may even stand for ‘Keep it Smart and Simple.’

TechTarget makes the following comment regarding the term:

“The KISS Principle (Keep It Simple, Stupid) is self-descriptive and recognizes two things. 1. People (including product and service users) generally want things that are simple, meaning easy to learn and use.”

“2. A company that makes products or furnishes services may find simplicity an advantage for the company as well, since it tends to shorten time and reduce cost.”

KISS Principle
If something is simple, useful, and affordable, people will buy it. If it is complicated, however, they won’t, especially if there is a simpler option available.

KISS principle and consumers

When consumers are deciding whether to buy something, they do not care how clever a product’s creator was. If its designer spent years in a complicated series of projects, the consumer does not care.

All the consumer cares about is whether they can take that person’s product and use it. Above all, will they find it useful and will they like it? Also, they want products that they can afford.

Products with simple explanations generally sell better than those with complicated explanations. Even simple goods tend to sell better than their intricate counterparts.

Therefore, when you are selling something, remember to follow the KISS principle. You should also follow that principle if you are creating new products or upgrading existing ones.

KISS principle variants in history

Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) once said: “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” Vinci was an Italian Renaissance polymath whose interests included painting, inventing things, science, music, and mathematics.

He was also interested in astronomy, writing, history, sculpting, and cartography.

Ludwig Mies van der Rohe (1886-1969), a German-American architect, once said: “Less is more.” Many people today regard Rohe as one of the great pioneers of modernist architecture.

Bjarne Stroustrup, a Danish computer scientist, once said: “Make simple tasks simple.” Stroustrup created and developed the C++ programming language. He is Managing Director of Morgan Stanley, New York, and is a visiting professor at Columbia University.

When you are designing a website or web page, remember the KISS principle. If it is a commercial site, and you want to make money, don’t complicate things. Simple navigation is key.

Video – KISS Principle

In this video, Richard Lock explains that people are good at making things complicated. We tend to make things much more complicated than they have to be.

However, we should be focussing on keeping things simple. Good leaders and managers work hard to keep things simple.