Back PJ Onori’s blog

Simple things make things simple

I’m not a complicated guy. The older I get, more I’m drawn to less. This is best illustrated in a recent project.

Screenshot of in all its glory

I launched in April of 2023 as a weekly editorial on design systems. I needed space for more reading and thinking, but knew that wouldn’t reliably happen without an intentional process in place. I made the site to keep me learning and accountable. But it would fail if it was too much work.

So why write about this? It’s certainly not for self-aggrandizement as the project isn’t worthy of it. Rather, the goal is to show what simplicity can yield in concrete terms.

Simple concept begets simple design begets simple execution

I had a clear constraint of time and worked backwards from that. Essentially anything that could be removed from the project, was. Its concept, format, structure, aesthetic and implementation all aimed for extreme simplicity. In practice, this meant:

Truth be told, it could be simpler. Perhaps one day it will.

Shipping nearly nothing turns out to be simple

Removing so much resulted in removing many problems typically faced when making a website. One page meant no information architecture or navigation schemes. No JavaScript meant no complicated toolchains or build scripts. Minimal NPM dependencies meant minimal maintenance. No images or fonts meant no optimization, performance-tuning or FOUT. No tracking, upsells or hidden agendas meant no GDPR compliance, marketing or general nonsense getting in the way of the content.

All that simplicity enabled the entire project to go from idea to deployed in roughly 5 hours (including 2 hours of muddling through regular expressions). Posting updates takes minutes. Reading articles is far and away the largest time commitment—as it should be.

Honest and clean

I don’t have much free time. Any time commitment nowadays has to be worth it. Nowadays, “worth it” often equates to money. That dynamic plays a large part in the modern web’s proclivity for bait-and-switches, “Please like/follow/subscribe”, hidden sponsorships and the ever-present invisible eye that’s collecting your personal information. I simply wasn’t going to do that. But, I had to make this site in a way where that was actually feasible.

A project that took months of time to create and required constant high-maintenance would require something substantial in return. I have no need for a return because I’ve reduced the investment to all but nothing. With essentially no overhead or maintenance, this site isn’t costing me anything. And no cost means no need to extract value.

I now have a site that’s encouraging me think about design system ideas. The reader gets content in return. In short, this site was designed to be clean-burning to ensure a clean relationship with its readers.

Parting words

Simple isn’t always fun. It’s often not inspirational. It’s typically not convenient. It’s not easy. But simple is simple. And boy is simple a breath of fresh air in today’s world. That’s why I’m so proud of of this project. It’s not beautiful to look at. It’s not a technical marvel. It isn’t solving some grand problem. It’s just a single page on the internet.

I’m most satisfied by what this project isn’t. There’s not much to it, and that’s the point. Practically speaking, it had to be made this way due to life’s constraints. Simple is a word so trodden over that it’s lost its meaning. Real simplicity is often unnoticed by design. But overlooked as it may be, incredible things can come from it. Working on this project has reaffirmed just how much can happen when you do as little as possible.