One of the most ­famous American cartoonists of the 20th century was Rube Goldberg, who was widely known for his “Goldberg machines.” Each of these comical inventions depicted a complex set of “instructions” for completing what should have been a fairly simple everyday task. His Self-Operating Napkin, for example, required 13 sequential steps involving a parrot, a cigar lighter, a rocket and a sickle—along with various strings, springs and pendulums.

The cartoons were funny because they poked good-­natured fun at a fundamental irony of human psychology. People will make even the simplest task much more complicated than it needs to be, yet all this overexplaining rarely helps. Indeed, the opposite is often true: Goldberg’s convoluted “how-to” instructions may make us laugh, but they also leave us feeling exhausted. If that is what it takes to use a napkin, why would we bother?

Do you make things more complicated than they need to be? Think about ways to simplify everything from your font selections to your instructions to your calls to action.

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