Keith Haring — in praise of simplicity

By dmax3270 — Cropped from [], CC BY-SA 2.0,

Last night I watched the documantary ‘Keith Haring — Street Art Boy’ If you’re in the UK It’s on iPlayer for a few more months.

I can’t get over the fluidity of his line; it’s like he IS the brush. But the thing that really struck me was how important the simplicty of his work is.

His distillation of his visual language into the baby, the dog, the spaceship and so on, made it so powerful and communicate to so many people so clearly.

From this simplicity he created works of great complexity and scope.

I couldn’t help but relate it back to lean principals and why I think they work so well. Lean principals are simple enough to be expressed simply and without any jargon:

  • Why are we doing this? — Starting with the customer and pulling work in
  • How fast can we do this? — Measure Throughput and Cycle Time
  • What is going on right now? — Value stream mapping

From here we can dig deeper but again this can be done through simple means:

  • How much stuff are we doing at the same time? — Kanban boards
  • How much stuff are we trying to do at once — Managing Work in Progress
  • What should we do next? — Managing queues

Using these simple questions and methods we can create and manage work of great complexity. We can put in place simple rules which allow people to work together with autonomy, mastery and purpose.

Coming back to Haring, we can work in a way that is human. Haring’s work brims over with our shared humanity. Given how much time we spend at work I think we do well to put our humanity at the centre of our practice, what we have in common and what makes us different.




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Chris Young

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