Meg Hunt - arrows
Simplicity and complexity combined by Meg Hunt.

This awesome sketch is what prompted me to write this post. Unfortunately I don’t know who the artist is – if anyone recognizes it, do let me know!
EDITED: The artist is Meg Hunt and you can find her beautiful work here.


You might be familiar with the KISS acronym. It stands for Keep It Simple, Stupid – a little creativity mantra to remind us not to over-complicate our work.

Simple is not so simple…

KISS can be actually be a little misleading. The idea is not to just be simple – that’s easy! The idea is to keep your complex stuff appear simple – and that’s not simple at all.

My all-time favorite example is Winnie the Pooh – so delightfully simple every kid loves it, so beautifully layered with nuances that several popular philosophy books have been written about it.

It doesn’t have to be an all-time classic though: even a much smaller work can have a delightful and sophisticated mix of simplicity and complexity. Do take a moment to look closely at the 3 arrows design. It really is a marvel how many layers of small details and slight color variations the artist had been able to put into this seemingly simple design.


Allow me to suggest my own add-on to the KISS acronym: BEST. Together, KISS BEST stands for:
[tweet “KISS BEST: Keep It Simple, Silly (But Elaborate with Some Texture)”]

(*) yes, I changed it to a nicer word. Sue me.

(**) I’ll loosely define texture as “a set of seemingly random minute details that give a piece or an element character, believability and interest”.


How to do it

How, from the creative process point of view, can we attempted to achieve that elusive quality of seemingly simple complexity?

  1. Work in passes. working in passes allows you to start simple and then gradually elaborate, adding more and more detail without losing the structure. More about working in passes in the “read more” section below.
  2. Free-form over simple outline. Create a simple and firm left brain outline, then work from your right brain  in ‘stream-of-consciousness’ style, attempting to loosely follow that simple structure.
  3. Explore before you make. If your work tends to be too simple, take a leaf out of J.K.Rowling’s [bestselling] books… She has a large box containing 10 years’ worth (!) of exploring Harry Potter’s world: family trees, drawings, notes, little stories. When you have that kind of deep understanding or your work, texture and nuances become almost inevitable – even when you do your best to keep it simple.  More about exploring in the green “explore” tab (or use the link below).
  4. Do it more than once. One of my favorite Mark Twain quotes: “The time to begin writing an article is when you have finished it to your satisfaction. By that time you begin to clearly and logically perceive what it is you really want to say.” He was only partly joking. Creating a few deliberately disposable rough attempts before starting to work “for real” will both simplify and enrich your work.

How do YOU combine simplicity and complexity in your work? Add your own process tips in the comments section below!


Join the Conversation


  1. Love the arrows! Nice design indeed.
    About “creating a few deliberately disposable rough attempts before starting to work for real” – isn’t it going to take wayyyy too much time?
    Great post, thanks!

    1. It will take time for sure, but not as much as you could think (because they are ROUGH). And it will pay you off exponentially in the quality of the final work.

  2. Hi Dave, thanks for commenting!
    I have a short answer and a longer answer.

    Short answer: yes – it’s going to take some time. High quality takes time.

    Longer answer: not necessarily. The trick is to do just one or two passes on your “disposable drafts”. The first couple of passes typically take something like 10% of the total MAKE time, so basically if you do 2 of them you’re only “wasting” 20% of your time; and those 20% are often gained back through more confidence and less mistakes.

  3. Amazing advice as always. Thanks a lot, Doron!!!!

    «Creating a few deliberately disposable rough attempts before starting to work “for real” will both simplify and enrich your work.» –> That’s exactly what I’m trying to do with the novel draft I’m writing, because it is the first book of a trilogy and I still don’t have a completely clear vision of the whole story.

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