Has it finally come to this? In our always-on, hyper-connected world do we
now need to have mountains of promotion to know that a potentially big pop
culture event is headed our way? I ask this because I have just seen - for the
umpteenth time - yet another marketing tie-in for the movie "Despicable Me." I
don't have anything against the movie (as of this writing I haven't even seen
it yet) and I understand that it did very well at its opening weekend ($60
million+); it's just that the level of success this movie experienced after
months of seemingly endless promotion guarantees that we should now expect
similar levels of marketing and cross-company tie-ins for all manner of
products. So be forewarned; and brace yourselves.
What concerns me about
the potential spread of this tactic is that maybe, in our push to creatively
market products we may or may not need, we're overlooking the most critical aspect of that product - the ability to answer the question about why we would
want to actually own a particular product or use a certain service.
ultimately, is almost always that the product/service improves our lives in
some way. Whether it does so in a never-ending loop on a production line or for
only the most fleeting of moments in our personal lives, the fact that we
believe some aspect of our existence has been improved is what matters most and
leads to the ultimate success of the product. All of which leads to the core
issue that ultimately enables this success. This element is, more often than
not (especially when it comes to technology), the simplicity of it. And as our
world gets increasingly
complex, simplicity will become ever more important.
It may be easy to
dismiss this call for simplicity as being too obvious or, dare I say, too
simple. But a closer look reveals this may not be the case, especially for
those responsible for design in a world where technology feature/functionality
Maeda, president of the Rhode Island School of Design, wrote a book entitled
"The Laws of Simplicity" a few years ago when he was a professor at the MIT
Media Lab. In his book, Maeda explains his 10 laws of simplicity and their
direct connection to a product's value to the user. While all of his "laws" are
worthwhile, for design engineers I believe four of the 10 to be most important.
Those laws are:
Reduce: The simplest way to achieve simplicity is through thoughtful reduction.
Organize: Organization makes a system of many appear fewer.
Time: Savings in time feels like simplicity.
Simplicity is about subtracting the obvious and adding the meaningful.
I won't get into a
detailed discussion of Maeda's points here, but for design engineers, the key
takeaway can be found in Maeda's comment: "The more complexity there is in the
market, the more that something simpler stands out."
Getting back to the pop
culture tie-in that led to this column - the pitfall of these ubiquitous
marketing campaigns is that they may eventually have the opposite effect if
they become the accepted norm and, therefore, commonplace. Simplicity, however,
will never go out of style; but it will remain elusive.
So as you go about
focusing on making your product simpler and therefore more unique, don't forget
that simplicity is never as simple as it may sound. As Woody Guthrie said: "Any
fool can make something complicated; it takes a genius to make it simple."