Wikipedia says, In photography, the technique of simplicity is used to achieve the effect of singling out an item or items from their surrounding.
I also like this definition from Bluemoon: the understanding of what is and is not important in a design. Details that do not have a major impact to the design are omitted to keep it uncluttered.
And Princeton is perhaps a bit more to the point, the quality of being simple or uncompounded… absence of affectation or pretense.
Olympus today announced a new camera, the E-P1, and you can read all about it over on my favorite camera equipment blog, Digital Photography Review. Why do I think I might like this camera so much, and why do so many others think they'll find it so potentially appealing? Simplicity. Efficiency of design.
Simplicity is why I love my little Canon G10 so much. The G10 is not perfect. It's got rather evident noise in the higher ISOs and the viewfinder is a bit small. It's also a bit expensive in relation to some of the smaller DSLRs out there. But the G10 gets several things right: it takes excellent images below 400 ISO, it's got great image stabilization, it shoots in RAW, it has a gorgeous three-inch LCD, and it feels right. In fact, it feels great. The mode dials are solid metal with firm detents and a very stiff movement, which is great when you want to prevent accidental changes when the camera is dangling around your neck. The body is metal-clad, and the camera is, well, dense. It's heavy. It "feels" solid. I don't recommend trying this, but just yesterday I dropped it in my driveway and it seems to have suffered not a bit. In many regards (and I am by no means the first to say this) the G10 "feels" like a rangefinder from the 1950s. Solid. Metal. Simple. Pick it up, turn it on, set your aperature, and shoot. Simple.
So when I see the new Olympus E-P1, which takes everything I just mentioned about the G10 and adds a bigger (and less noisy) sensor, interchangeable lenses (Leica M series glass, anyone?) and striking styling, well, you may understand why I have suddenly developed a serious case of technolust for this new camera.
But this got me thinking. Why do we crave this style of camera? I have a great DSLR that does pretty much everything I can ask of it. But it's big. And the shutter is a little noisy when trying to shoot in quiet places. The menu structure can get complicated, and there are a lot of choices, if I want to dive down into the camera's many functions. And, while I have some nice lenses, they're big, too. Sometimes it's nice to just have that small G10, an unobtrusive and quiet camera that you can hold close and shoot discretely with when needed. Easy to use. Fast to handle. Feels good. Uncomplicated.
Allow me here to introduce one of my heroes, Henri Cartier-Bresson:
Reality offers us such wealth that we must cut some of it out on the spot, simplify. The question is, do we always cut out what we should? While we're working, we must be conscious of what we're doing. Sometimes we have the feeling that we've taken a great photo, and yet we continue to unfold. We must avoid however, snapping away, shooting quickly and without thought, overloading ourselves with unnecessary images that clutter our memory and diminish the clarity of the whole. (PhotoQuotes.)
Enter today. Enter libraries.
(Or any organization, for that matter.)
These are times that call for simplicity. The economic downturn. The pressure to become ever more efficient, pressure to stretch budgets further and farther. Pressure to keep your job.
And what, unfortunately, do so many managers and leaders do at times like this? They do two diametrically opposed things: they increase workload expectations on staff and they introduce changes that complicate procedures and work processes. What are workers to do, short of imploding?
The pressure of the workplace, of the need to get the job done well, causes many people to seek complicated solutions instead of simple ones. I, myself, need to be careful of this. I allow small things to cause me to respond disproportionately. A small abuse of the email system has me wanting to institute draconian email guidelines. A communications breakdown has me flooding email inboxes with angry missives.
We all need to be careful. We need to pay attention to what we are asking our staff, our loyal workers, to do during these difficult times. Some things must, obviously, continue. We have laws and policies to abide by, and we have buildings and websites to maintain. And we have customers/patrons/users to serve. But we have fewer dollars and fewer staff and many of those users are in a rather testy mood of late. Understandably so.
So what do we do if someone makes a mistake or slips? Do we set about writing new guidelines and adding several hundred lines to our work manuals? No. We take a deep breath and go on. We suck it up, so to speak.
I'm reminded of the Alan Alda line from Crimes and Misdemeanors: if it bends, it's funny; if it breaks, it isn't. And right now, we don't want anyone or anything to break. We want simplicity. Times like this have us craving the easy-to-use, the things that we can operate blindfolded, the processes we're comfortable and at ease with. We don't want new procedures right now. We don't want complications. When possible, save the new models and studies and modified workflows for later. Yes, this might be difficult. But when things break, it can get very expensive, very quickly. Let's get through these difficult times with our morale intact.