Keep It Simple & Sincere

From The Muppets to the Nintendo Wii, podcaster Eric Molinsky’s variation on the classic “KISS” method has proven to be effective for successful product designers. Turns out it works just as well for world builders, too.

Keep It Simple & Sincere
by Chris Blockus
March 29, 2016

How did a video game console – woefully inferior to its contemporary competitors by almost every metric – manage to outsell its two closest competitors combined when it was released?  In the second episode of his excellent podcast “Imaginary Worlds,” Eric Molinsky suggests a version of the traditional KISS method (“Keep It Simple, Stupid!”) that might have something to do with it.  While at CalArts, Eric decided that KISS should stand for “Keep It Simple & Sincere.” He didn’t like running himself down with the word stupid, and he felt the addition of “sincere” highlighted a critical element to consider.  While Eric was talking specifically about a method for creating the most believable artificial characters (in this case, Muppets), the team that drove those unbelievable sales with the motion-sensing Nintendo Wii clearly applied it to their work as well.  In fact, it’s advice that anyone looking to design quick, intuitive relationships between what they create and the people that will experience them should seriously consider.

The Muppets are believable because their designers and puppeteers keyed in on the most fundamental forms and movements to read as unmistakably human, and then created puppets that could accentuate those characteristics. The Wii is fun right out of the box because its designers and engineers keyed in on the most intuitive motions to simulate playing a sport or dancing, and then created a control system to make those motions possible. In each case, they found the one potential aspect of their medium that would resonate deeply with their audience, and then ruthlessly focused on how to achieve it. Muppets are obviously foam and the graphics on the Wii are unapologetically sub-par, but because they each realized that one deeply resonant factor so elegantly, nobody cared all that much about what they lacked. Likewise, effective world designers must focus on the most immediate and powerful ways to immerse would-be inhabitants.

Beyond just character or product design, the iot productions team uses this same mantra when creating entire artificial worlds. The Pandemic world, for example, could have easily become too heavy to support its own weight. Think about trying to introduce a futuristic society filled with unfamiliar organizations and nuanced politics. Then hand it over for an hour or two to a group of people who have never met each other and may or may not have learned anything about it during the multi-week alternate reality pre-production leadup. Don’t forget to throw in some zombies for good measure. No matter if someone learned about it in advance or simply showed up on performance day, the complex world of Pandemic had to immediately make sense to them so they could interact with it and play within in. So that participants could stay focused on experiencing the world and escaping zombies, there couldn’t be any complex procedures or protocols to explain.

There is a deep richness to the Pandemic world that can be explored over time, but to maintain suspension of disbelief long enough for it to be discovered, the authenticity of any situation at a Pandemic: Condemned performance must be instantly felt and bring everyone participating together. The mechanical premise of Pandemic: Condemned, for example, is certainly simple (avoid zombies or get carted away), but it is also sincere. When confronted with a zombie, it’s natural to run. When in a confined space, it’s natural for tensions to rise. 

If you are considering introducing your creation to the world, make sure to keep it both simple and sincere. Doing more can be distracting, confusing, and often self-indulgent. Identify the one thing about it that resonates deeply with you. If you can’t, your idea is likely incomplete.  As you work to bring the creation to life, continue to apply Coco Chanel’s simplicity rule (before you leave the house, look in the mirror and take at least one thing off). The creation is ready when it’s naked; that is, when there are no barriers to others sharing in that same amazing feeling of honesty.