Keep it simple

Photo by Amélie Mourichon

It is said that the average adult makes 35,000 choices in one day. Only during this short blog post will the average reader several times throughout the text choose whether it is interesting enough to read on, or whether the latest notification that just ticked on your smartphone seemed more interesting, or whether it is time and open TikTok for some and fun video-based entertainment.

In a day and age where our surroundings are constantly seeking our attention, the ability to keep things simple is a recipe for success. This is also true historically, as many of the brands that have succeeded have one thing in common. They are able to keep it simple. Everything from The first T-Ford that was possible to order in whatever color you wanted as long as it was black to Google’s simple and minimalist search field at a time when the internet was dominated by homepages with countless links and pre-defined category drill-downs. The common denominator for both of these companies was that simplicity at the core was the first building block for a scalable platform strategy and business model.

Lack of simplicity also has a consequence across any company’s value chain. In the same year that Apple launched the first iPhone, Nokia launched 10 different models. Not only does this lead to an unnecessary number of choices, but also increased costs across the value chain in the form of everything from increased complexity all the way from manufacturing to the end-customer to inefficient working capital management due to tied up capital in the form of the need for specialized components and storage capacity.

IN the digital world, where competition equals competition for the user’s attention, complexity and unnecessary choices are the antitheses of an attractive and relevant user experience.

At the same time, almost every digital project suffers from feature creep, often resulting in an inferior user experience. An analysis by The Standish Group has reviewed 2,000 software projects from 1,000 companies with the aim of uncovering how much of the features developed are used. The analysis shows that only 7 percent of the functionality is “always” used, and as much as 45 percent of the functionality is never used.

The challenge is that many companies have in place processes, structures, and regulations that favor a mindset where all possible use situations must be described in detail before development starts. In addition to this, we as humans tend to view ourselves as the end-user when designing products, resulting in shoehorning in the personal preferences of every single stakeholder as an additional feature instead of constantly seeking to minimize and perfect the core concept.  

At the opposite end of the scale, we find Instagram, which is one of the best examples of thinking big, starting small, and scaling quickly. With a team of 13 people, they scaled a simple idea to 27 million users in 18 months. While this is a unique case that is virtually impossible to copy, there is much to be learned from the way Instagram was able to limit the scope of the services, focus on what should be core functionality, and above all set feasibility as the most important parameter for success.

Think big and have a clear path towards where you are heading. A long-term vision should contribute to a shared focal point and does not need to be detailed. Start small and identify the first steps towards a future goal. Set tight deadlines to create a need to delineate. Focus on delivering the first version rather than spending too much time analyzing any future steps in detail before gaining experience from the first delivery.

At the same time, make sure you have a deep understanding of available technologies and the potential implications on your target market(s). Apple and Spotify understood this and made it easy to purchase and/or consume music legally digitally at a time when incumbents in the music industry were engaging in an uphill battle against an inevitable and unstoppable change in consumer behavior due to the availability of high-speed internet.

Furthermore, Spotify has made it easier than ever to discover music you like by putting together a personalized playlist for all its millions of users based on machine learning. Where yesterday’s digital solutions contained large amounts of choices and functions to embrace a wide range of users, relevant use of data can contribute to automated personalization.

For a technology-driven company, it is equally important to have a clear technology vision that stays true to the core concept of your product or service and resist the temptation to implement technology merely because it is what is trending these days.

One reason why <insert any hyped technology> often emerges as an answer to many problems is that it is easy to imagine high-level use cases of new technology. However, as we venture under the surface of such use cases, applying new and untested technology to a known problem is all too often a theoretical solution. Falling in love with new and novel technologies is a surefire way to add complexity and pose a risk to start chasing a solution looking for a problem.

Just because it is possible to deploy a solution with a new and promising technology, does not mean that you should do it.

At the end of the day, simplicity is a proven success formula when designing and launching new products and services. If your target audience does not immediately understand what is going on when signing up to the service, it is a sign to go back to the drawing board, and instead of adding more features to cater to deviation use-cases, focus on simplifying the core concept.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *