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Why We’ve Made "Simple" Our Mandate for Product Design

How to tame the enemy known as complexity. Improving profits, liveability, and satisfaction for your products and services.

Published by J.P. Holecka on 01.02.2019

There’s nothing worse than needless complexity.

Our clients come to us with big ideas - and big ideas are often intricate or cumbersome, and sometimes both; so we help them land on the right ideas. What I’ve seen time and time again is that the right idea is always the simplest.

That doesn’t mean it’s the most obvious, or the one that takes the least work. Quite the opposite. And that’s because there’s a critical difference between simple and simplistic.

Simplistic is basic. Simplistic means that the minimum amount of thought went into a concept, and the minimum amount of effort went into its actualization. It’s ironic, but simplistic ideas often yield the most complex products. Without a rigorous process to help arrive at the right model, the final result is clunky and convoluted.

“Simple” is when a solution is so seamless that users barely even notice it — yet behind the scenes, it’s engineered to perfection through cycles of planning, designing, testing, executing, and iterating. Albert Einstein once said, “Things should be made as simple as possible, but not any simpler.” I couldn’t agree more.

Albert Einstein

Think of the user experiences we take for granted in the products we use daily — the Google Search engine is a good example of this. A simple white box with a single bar for text — which, when a keyword is entered, returns exactly the results you’re looking for. There’s a lot of tech and thinking that goes into that, but the page has no distractions, no tricks. A few links, but nothing more than that. It’s a far cry from earlier search engines such as Yahoo, where you had to spend a long time navigating your way through nested pages and categories.

Or consider Google Translate’s Word Lens. It’s pretty amazing to be able to read foreign languages in real time just by holding your phone to a word; to see it transcribed before your eyes in a similar font and colour. The elegance of these solutions masks the elaborate algorithms working below the surface. It’s as simple as possible without being simplistic.

And then there’s Apple. iPhones are the epitome of simple, user-centred design, with an intuitiveness that covers the complexity of its engineering. We also see user-centred design in services such as Amazon Prime, which pioneered the one-click buy.

It’s no coincidence that these tech giants — Google, Apple, Amazon — are so successful. They take complex ideas and turn them into simple products, services, and solutions, which means less friction, more conversions, fewer abandoned carts, and higher revenue. More and more, it seems, simplicity is table stakes for brands both big and small.

We can see this in the Simplicity Index. This shows that a portfolio of brands with the simplest experiences outperforms all other major indexes on the stock market by over 400%. In short, the ROI of simplicity is real.

All businesses understand that their products and services are their key moneymakers, but not all of them seem to grasp the fact that they’re losing users — and money — when those products and services have extraneous layers of complexity. In the long run, their returns are just not as great as they would be with a simple experience and design.

For a decade, POWERSHiFTER has helped organizations overcome these challenges. But as we set our sights on the decade ahead, I think it’s important to clearly articulate our commitment to simplicity. I like to say that we’re doers, not storytellers. But now it’s time to talk the walk.

And for me, that starts with John Maeda’s The Laws of Simplicity.

Johne Meada

The book was written over ten years ago, well before I launched POWERSHiFTER, yet its principles are as applicable now as they were then, and they’ll still hold true tomorrow. To me, that shows that good design — simple design — endures even as trends come and go. It’s the heart and soul of digital technology.

That’s why POWERSHiFTER’s six lenses of simplicity — the frames through which we view all challenges and opportunities — are variations on Maeda’s ten laws. They are as follows:

  1. Reduce: The simplest way to achieve simplicity is through thoughtful reduction.
  2. Organize: Organization makes a system of many appear fewer.
  3. Time: Savings in time feel like simplicity.
  4. Discoverability: Making things easy to find makes things feel simple.
  5. Context: When we know the “why”, we can connect the dots and make leaps in logic easier.
  6. Knowledge: The more we know, the simpler things are.

Noted artist and teacher Hans Hofmann once said, “The ability to simplify means to eliminate the unnecessary, so that the necessary may speak.” At POWERSHiFTER, that’s exactly what we strive to do.

Hans Hofmann

We begin by doing a substantial amount of research at the onset of a project, bringing a breadth of qualitative and quantitative methodologies so that we always derive the right data. We’re always delving deeper. What will be statistically relevant for a specific use case? How can we drive the best insights through user testing? Our clients are often surprised by this level of commitment, but understand the value quickly — and never look back.

Recently, a financial services client came to us proposing a new multi-tiered system for connecting customers with appropriate levels of products. It was a typical instance of a big idea that needed to be transformed into the right idea.

Our team applied our unique approach, with design thinking at its core. After quickly researching, contextualizing, and analyzing all the relevant data, we were able to rapidly roll out prototypes for user testing, and rework them in 30-minute design sprints between test sessions. We took the client’s original hypothesis and, through research, turned it into something practical, user-centric, and simple.

Ultimately, we believe in simplifying digital experiences. In fact, we're so committed to this that we've come up with a goal to simplify 1 billion of them by 2028; we’re at 80 million and counting. It's a big deal for us. We face so many macro- and micro-decisions each day — some of them feel momentous, others are so easy we don’t even notice we’re making them. Great design works to eliminate some of these decisions for us so that gradually our lives get a bit simpler, one app at a time.

If you'd like to know more about our approach on making products, services, and platforms simple to use don't hesitate to contact us.

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Better digital experiences produce better outcomes. At POWERSHiFTER, we deliver brilliant digital solutions that put people first. Partner with us on your next digital project.

Send us a note or a call us at +1 (604)484-0606.