Product Principle: “Simple things should be simple. Complex things should be possible” (WIP)

“Simple things should be simple. Complex things should be possible” from Alan Kay is one of the top product principles in my product development philosophy.

After getting the product-market fit, the expectations of the customer continue to increase over time, and in fact, total satisfaction is likely an asymptote impossible to achieve.

Casey’s Guide to Finding Product/Market Fit | Casey Accidental

Products such as Photoshop, Outlook, Excel, Figma… began with a few simple use cases, and have evolved into sophisticated solutions to satisfy the increasing of customer expectations.

The product experience suffers as more and more features are introduced to increase the value prop, causing dissatisfaction among existing users and creating an invisible barrier to entry for the new users.

Other simpler products, focusing on the basic use cases and the — , are founded to capture the market share, Canva vs Photoshop, Slack vs Email, Airtable vs Excel, e.g.

Being powerful while remaining simple is challenging, “Simple things should be simple. Complex things should be possible”.

It’s something that every product maker should be aware of.

The principle sounds simple, yet it is not difficult to implement. Read through my piece to learn about the industry’s common pitfalls and best practices.

The principle sounds simple, yet it is difficult to put into practice.

Go through my post to learn more about the common pitfalls and best practices in the industry.

The Common Pitfalls

Simple things are not simple

Most people start using a product with a simple use-case.

Complex things are not possible

How to make simple things simple and complex things possible

Identifying the Core Use-cases and Sub Use-cases

Core Use-cases

  1. Target Population: 80% of your users, Casual Users
  2. Frequency: High
  3. Examples:

Sub Use-cases

  • Target Population: 20% of your users, Power Users
  • Frequency: Need-based
  • Examples: Version history, Formulas, ect.

Place the core use-case features in front of users, disguise the sub use-case features

Real-world practices

MacOS vs Windows’ Save File Modals

SaveFileDialog In C#
Normal Mode (Source)
Expanded Mode (Source)


The simple things

The complex things


Command Palette


80% of core use cases can be achieved easily by any user via a friendly GUI, however, with the well-defined underlying syntax, any GUI actions can be turned into Coda programming language, which opens to unlimited possibilities.





To-avoid Inspirations

How do I apply it in the product I built


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