Commercially valuable

Simplicity is good for business.

Simplicity is the ultimate design factor, that single quality which more than anything else is sought in design, by designers and by users.

It should now be considered a basic law of commerce: Simplicity attracts.

Unfortunately we naturally move towards complication.

Over time there have been various vain efforts by third-parties to “redesign Google” by adding uncalled-for visual style ... This is a lesson that digital designers continue to cash checks by forgetting. Fast, easy, and useful beats all.

The average website has moved in one direction.

But a lot of the stuff we're seeing is a pile-up of garbage on seemingly every major website that does nothing to make visitors happier — if anything, much of this stuff is deeply irritating and morally indefensible ... The combination of huge images that serve little additional purpose than decoration, several scripts that track how far you scroll on a page, and dozens of scripts that are advertising related means that text-based webpages are now obese and torpid and excreting a casual contempt for visitors.

Worryingly it’s not limited to websites.

Design ... has become a major source of pollution. Encouraged by glossy lifestyle magazines, and marketing departments, it's become a competition to make things as noticeable as possible by means of colour, shape and surprise. It's historic and idealistic purpose, to serve industry and the happy consuming masses at the same time, of conceiving things easier to make and better to live with, seems to have been side-tracked.

Fortunately that means more success for those of us who resist.

Given the option, any sane person will choose the simple path over one that's more complicated. If that still seems too obvious, then you're well on your way to appreciating one of Simplicity's most outstanding attributes. It looks, acts, and sounds perfectly natural. Your head involuntarily nods in agreement. But never underestimate the degree to which people crave this kind of clarity and respond positively to it. Most of us live in a world that's become increasingly complicated, where Simplicity isn't all that easy to find. It boils down to basic supply and demand: As Simplicity becomes more rare, it also becomes more valuable. So your ability to keep things simple, and protect things from becoming more complicated, becomes more valuable as well.

People not only buy, but more importantly love, designs that can make their lives simpler. For the foreseeable future, complicated technologies will continue to invade our homes and workplaces, thus simplicity is bound to be a growth industry.

It's time for a more honest, more useful, simpler approach.

We are seeing the emergence of an anti-visual design movement, as more and more customers are becoming distrustful of smiling faces, soft tones and soft language. As customers' eyes are opened to the reality of how most organizations actually treat them, we're getting banner blindness, marketing blindness, advertising blindness, communication and PR spin blindness. For too long, beauty has been used to cover for the beast of greed and narcissism ... Simplicity, usefulness, functionality, details and facts, transparency; these are the pillars of the new digital design. We trust what we can quickly and easily use but only as long as it's useful.

For a few years the focus was on delight. But this isn’t the right thing to focus on.

Talking about creating “delightful” user experiences is actually user-hostile when it wrongly presumes that your customer wants to be emotionally involved with your service at all. Fast and invisible are often the better parts of delight.

Instead, focus on more basic needs.

The basic rule of business on the Internet is no different from the one in real-world stores. The faster and simpler you can make the buying experience, the more business you'll do. A goal for every online retailer is to minimize the obstacles that stand between their customers and the "buy" button. When Simplicity is part of the deal, it's just easier for the customer to arrive at a decision and whip out their credit card.

Don’t be fooled by critics of simplicity.

When iPad was unveiled, for example, critics complained that it was lacking in features. When competitors' tablets began to arrive, they'd added everything iPad was "missing" to make their devices more attractive to buyers: more ports, memory card slots, etc. Their additions didn't sell. It was the subtractions made by Apple during the design stage that customers found more appealing.

It might not feel “smart” to be simple, but it’s the right approach.

If your product is actually useful then don't be afraid to show off how useful it is. Don't hide behind big stupid stock images that say absolutely nothing. Don't suffocate your customers with empty marketing jargon when you can actually say something useful. For organizations that are useful, marketing and communication should stress the use ... Unless you need to lie to customers, your branding is your simplicity. Your branding is your usefulness. Every time a customer can find something quickly and easily, that's branding. If the product you make starts every single time without fail, that's branding. Transparent pricing is branding. Great customer service is branding. Branding can be about what is good and what is useful.

You don’t have to look far to find good examples.

Boring doesn't always save lives, but it usually improves them. The titans of the web — Wikipedia, Reddit, Google, Amazon, Dropbox, GitHub — look boring when compared to Snapchat, The Outline, or Bejeweled. But boring companies have millions of repeat users because their products actually work.

It’s a big opportunity for everyone, including older businesses.

There's an opportunity for banks and credit unions to retool products and services around simplicity as their central value proposition and make good on that proposition with the right kind of product and interactive design.

And charities.

The previous NCS homepage had several banners and menu items pointing to different ways of supporting the NCS. Today, there's just the “Support us” item in the menu, and the banners are gone. Despite this, the effect on the digital fundraising has been astounding ... The number of one-time donations has tripled (up 198%). The number of regular donors registering each year has quadrupled (up 288%). The total sum from regular donors each year has quintupled(!) (up 382%)

It’s a chance to overtake the competition.

The genius of Apple is that it often sees human potential where other companies do not, and it has the design and engineering skill to bring its vision to life. Sometimes, as happened with iPod and the music player market, Apple doesn't actually invent the idea from scratch. The concept may already exist but be missing only one thing: Simplicity. And that makes all the difference in the world.

But note that simplicity doesn’t help if you don’t communicate well.

Because we've seen the results of visual beauty in product design, we expect putting this level of focus on visual beauty in our brand's message will have the same effect. I've seen companies spend tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars perfecting a website, email, or ad's visual design while spending the last few hours on writing the words that will make up that design. Our intense focus on visual design can blind us from focusing on the most important part of the message: The story.

Though this example is limited in that it was constrained to people in our community who might prefer a more story-oriented approach (since this is our usual style), it supported our hunch that beauty isn't always best. And that being more authentic (i.e. telling our story just like we'd tell it to a friend) has a bigger impact than we might expect.

Telling a good story, whether that's through email, film, or any medium, creates a connection. And it's this connection that leads to attention, which leads to trust, which leads to sales.

You need a good story even if you’re on the cutting edge of visual design.

For all the care you put into artistry, visual polish frequently doesn't matter if you aren't getting the story right.

This principle doesn’t change depending on who you sell to.

Meanwhile, Apple continues to follow its simpler route, advertising to consumers and businesses alike. And guess what? It continues to sell by the millions, and there has yet to be a backlash of angry consumers or businesspeople complaining that they haven't been spoken to exclusively. Simplicity has universal appeal.

Next chapter →

← Previous chapter

Back to the table of contents