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What is the KISS Principle?

Updated: Jan 3, 2022

The how, what and when of KISS

Keep it Simple Stupid. Keep it Simple and Straightforward. Keep it Simple and Short.

No matter what versions you’ve come across, it’s a phrase that’s been used across multiple industries, applications and practices for the last 60 years.

But how can a simple phrase still be used in modern business today? Or Is it losing its relevance as our world gets more complex?

Let’s look into this 60-year-old phrase and uncover how (and if) we can still learn something from this simple reminder.

KISS: Keep it simple stupid.
KISS: a reminder to make it as simple as it can get.

What is the KISS principle?

KISS’ origins are linked to product design. In fact, engineering.

American aeronautical and systems engineer Clarence Leonard ‘Kelly’ Johnson first coined the phrase in 1960 as a reminder for engineers to not overcomplicate product design and keep it simple.

While it has now been adopted by multiple professions (including copywriting and marketing), the principle and its essence remains the same regardless of its application: Keep it simple stupid.

As in, make it as simple as it can get. So simple, its stupid simple.

The KISS principle today

In today’s time-poor world - saturated with more content, products and services than ever before - the KISS principle is more important than ever.

The more simple and straightforward it is, the more likely people are going to remember it, interact or use it, or pay attention to it.

Simplicity in action
Logo design is an example of just how powerful simplicity can be. For example, Nike and Apple’s logos are instantly recognisable yet have a simple design.

When applying KISS to process mapping, it’s a reminder to simplify the steps, functions and interactions. In turn, minimising failure points and creating efficiencies.

In design, it’s simplifying to increase impact, user interaction or attractiveness. Logo design is a fantastic example of KISS in action, with simplest designs creating the strongest brand recognition.

For presentations and business proposals, it’s about how your service or product will solve the problem and give the customer what they need. And the more simple the ‘how’ is shared, the more clear and compelling the narrative is.

Charts, reports and graphs use the KISS principle as well. Speak to a business analyst and they’ll tell you it’s all about what story the data is telling and making sure it’s clear and compelling. Without simplicity, the numbers do not hold the same storytelling power.

In copywriting, KISS is all about simplifying the message to create a compelling narrative. By simplifying content, the messages are more clear and carry more impact. In turn creating compelling and engaging content clearly leads the reader to the action you wish them to take.

How to apply the KISS principle to your copywriting or customer communications

Kill your darlings - Steven King

The more detail you have in your content, the more chance your message will get lost in the detail. This applies to your content, marketing, communications and designs.

Regardless of the medium - whether your content is a blog post, newsletter or marketing campaign element - to apply the KISS principle ask yourself:

(1) Is it adding value to your content?

(2) Is the detail required in your copy or a ‘nice to have’?

These questions can help you not only keep your content simple, but compelling and reader focused.


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