Only now, months later, am I getting around to writing about the most profound moment during my entire first experience of SXSWi last spring. It was a presentation by Dave Hogue (@DaveHogue, you can see his presentation on Slideshare), and in particular some charts he put up that beautifully summarized the importance of simplicity and why it is so hard to achieve. These charts have been floating in my head ever since I saw them back in March:
The process of creativity is often discussed only from the birthing angle. Most discussion focuses on where ideas come from and how to turn that blank white page into something brilliant. Less frequently discussed is the process of editing down and simplifying. Reduction is 50% of creativity and often the difference between something clever and something ‘so simple, so elegant, so brilliant I can’t believe no one has thought of it’. You know… the ideas that make you really jealous.
I recently blogged about a letter from David Ogilvy where it became quite obvious that today’s business climate is not as creativity-friendly as his was. We simply don’t give ourselves enough time.
Mr. Hogue’s presentation was more specifically about the adding-on of features and requirements during a project’s development and planning, but I think the concept is broadly relevant. Whether it’s software or a promotional campaign, all too often teams try to jam everything and the kitchen sink into whatever is being developed. This is sometimes done to get ‘the most bang for our buck’ and sometimes under the (mis)assumption that people want as many features as they can get.
Microsoft is often mocked for being the epitome of this type of over-complication. Everything that should take one click takes three. Every product comes bloated with software and features no one uses. Apple conversely gets kudos for artful simplicity. They hide a lot of features in a simple, intuitive and elegant interface. There are other products that do this well too. A simple app called Ommwriter for example, was designed to strip away the distractions and make writing a simple, thoughtful, pure experience. In fact, I recently finished a terrific book called The Paradox of Choice by Barry Schwartz, which goes to great lengths to demonstrate how having too many options not only makes it harder to choose, but can often make us miserable in the process.
Since seeing Mr. Hogue’s presentation I’ve pushed for a little extra time to simplify. I lobbied for fewer options not more. I’ve build wireframes that eliminate pop-ups, modal displays and additional pages. In many ways the fight to get this simplicity will be familiar to anyone who has listed to a graphic designer argue for more ‘white space’ in a layout.
It’s interesting to me that while we all readily nod our heads when someone brings up the taxing effect life’s complexity has on us, when we’re making decisions about advertising or interface design or functional specifications we seem to forget these very common, very human feelings and immediately assume ‘more’ is the order of the day.
Yet when we ask ourselves in all honestly, on truth bubbles to the surface: Less is more.
We know this from our experience outside the office. We need to do open the door and let this knowledge into the office too.