Simplicity As A Strategy


There exists an ever-deepening problem in our world:  the fact that systems evolve to grow more complex over time.  When a majority try to do or say too much, you have an opportunity:  be the most clear and concise option.

More features, more selling points, more options – none of these can defeat a competitor that does the best with the essentials, has a simple formula and drives it home consistently.

Learn the art of holding back and focusing on what matters and you will be the favored option time and time again.

Let’s look at a few common problem areas of bloat where the solution is to simplify:

Problem: Bloggers load up their sidebars with widgets, banners, RSS feeds and other superfluous content which clutters the screen.

Solution: The absolute only things that should live on your blog are the essential items you want users to see/click/interact with.  Instead of that massive blogroll which just takes up space and those countless badges of blog networks you belong to, why not purely have the actions that you’d actually be jazzed to see users take?  Organize all the extra stuff on separate pages in logical clusters.  Clutter ensures visitors focus on nothing.  Simplicity makes everything stand out.  Subscription and popular content above the fold ensures highest possible conversions.

Problem: PR pros creating lengthy media pitches and press releases full of fluff.

Solution: Members of the media, across all platforms, are some of the busiest people on the planet.  Make their lives easier, give them your messages in the simplest version possible.  There’s no such thing as too short of a pitch.  If they are interested they’ll come back to you for more.  Add links to get more information, put your content right in the message (don’t use attachments), be honest and descriptive in your subject line.  As for press releases, they should be documents with the highest possible signal and the least amount of noise.  Relentlessly edit the fluff – don’t kid yourself, look at things through an objective lens.

Problem:  Marketers create complex promotions or campaigns and bury a great idea in layers of information, facts or steps.

Solution: All of your marketing needs to pass the elevator test – not to the whole world, but to a niche. The beta test worked so well because I targeted a niche with messages that were simple to a specific group.  Many didn’t understand it, but that didn’t matter – my target niche got it instantly.  Other ideas I’ve implemented have been similar.  People organize by interests and passions far closer than merely by age demographic or socioeconomic factors.  Play to simple and smart ideas that niche groups will latch on to and your users will actively share your idea with each other.  Target everyone and you target no one.

Problem: Businesses build bloated, disorganized websites.

Solution: This problem usually stems from people developing sites without knowing the specific action they want site visitors to take.  Define that first, and build a site with the aim of accomplishing purely that action.  The real challenge of web design is using less.

Problem: Cell phone and electronics manufacturers creating devices which suffer from feature creep.

Solution: Yes, Apple created the ultimate convergence device – why did they succeed where everyone else failed?  Simple – the device was uncomplicated and works fantastic with basic features.  The device is a platform that scales to do more if you need it to with apps, but it does great with the necessities and starts uncomplicated.  Elegance and simplicity in consumer communication devices was missing from the puzzle and Apple filled that niche perfectly.  Most competitors still make the same mistakes they’ve been making forever.  Feature creep is applicable to everything from consumer electronics to product packaging.

Problem: Bloated/complex PowerPoint presentations that try to say everything but actually say nothing.

Solution: There is no such thing as a PowerPoint that is too simple, and less is always more.  People should be focusing on what you are saying, your slides should merely act to reinforce your words.  At no point should people have to struggle to read your slides.  This presentation and this book will help you.

Problem: The blogosphere was becoming an ever more complex ecosystem.

Solution: Evan Williams, creator of Blogger, an incredibly simple service in and of itself, saw how successful it was and took it a step simpler to create Twitter.  His ideas kept getting simpler, yet more refined and elegant over time – not the other way around, and for it he’s become even more successful.  Again, like the iPhone, Twitter is actually a platform that starts simple but can scale to do much more through it’s API.  In both cases, users are the ones free to create complexity in directions they see fit suiting their personal needs.

Problem: A corporation with too many management layers and inefficiencies in bringing ideas to life.

Solution: Remove the bloat, destroy the artificial barriers, reorganize to compete in the modern world.  Most businesses were not designed to work with social communications technologies due to superfluous layers of complexity.  If you’re at a company and jealous of what nimble competitors are able to do at using the web to their advantage, it’s time to seriously reconsider your system.  If companies like IBM can reorganize for this, anyone can.

Complexity is standard and expected.  Simplicity is elegant and a pleasant surprise.  Align your business, your blog, your methods with simplicity and you’ll always win against those who can’t focus their message and purpose.

Related posts from around the web

Too much light makes the baby go blind (Tim Jahn)

Who Needs A Board Of Advisors? (37 Signals)

How Simple Web Design Helps Your Business (Smashing Magazine)

Related posts from The Future Buzz

Simplicity Vs. Complexity

Make Your Site Known For Signal, Kill The Noise

A Secret Of The Social Web: Passion

image credit:  iboy daniel modified under cc 2.0