Why Simplification is the New Innovation


The Internet Age is practically synonymous with information excess. Every day, we’re saturated with what feels like thousands of images, ideas, and opinions. For awhile, it seemed like every technical innovation was built simply to make all that excess bigger and brighter. Now, what we want more than anything is to pull back and turn down the volume. These days, simplicity is at an absolute premium.

When the Information Age first got rolling, every innovative product was the rough equivalent of the universal remote. They did everything, and the more features they had the better. We were sold on the bells and whistles and not much else. Now, we want pretty much the exact opposite. We want the remote with six buttons, all with clear and obvious functions. We want the app that does one highly specific thing whether it’s identifying songs or summoning cars. We want products that do one thing really well with no other features getting in the way and over-complicating it.  We want simplicity and minimalism.

Psychologist Barry Schwartz wrote a book called The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less. In it, he makes the point that we are confronted by so much overwhelming abundance that it becomes impossible to make choices about what we actually want. The bounty of options laid out before us are paralyzing, rather than empowering.

The same logic applies strongly to product design. People don’t want to wade into an app loaded with complicated features and slowly work to comprehend it. They want a lot of apps that they know will do one thing really well. Minimalist design of the user interface itself is also quickly becoming the trend.

Look no further than the entertainment industry to see this simplifying effect at work. It is perhaps the most powerful reason why TV is losing so much ground to online streaming services every single day. People don’t want to buy every channel anymore. They want to buy the channel they like with the shows they actually watch.

This process of unbundling isn’t just happening to TV, but with practically everything else. Every company and every product is getting smaller and more agile. If you want to watch HBO, you get a subscription to the HBO app. If you want to study, you commit to a course at a time, rather than a full degree.

When the products we are confronted with on a daily basis do a little bit of everything, we start to lose sight of their meaning and purpose. With unbundling and a design process defined by simplicity, products have purpose again, and it’s clear people are responding positively to that. Now more than ever, there is an overwhelming urge to know where things fits. It only makes sense now to build products that cater to that desire.

It's time to let go of the idea that more features is better. Don’t load up your app interface with every bell and whistle. Don’t dazzle people with opulence. Do comfort them with simplicity.  Do build a product that does one thing really well.

Not only will that help it stand out from the noise, but in some small way, you’re doing your part to get all this excess under control.

There is something cathartic, comforting, and almost fulfilling about making our lives a little bit simpler. Organization and clarity calm the chaos that has become the norm in all of our lives. Simplicity and minimalism have become the dominant principles. People don’t want a lit bit of everything anymore. They want the one thing that best suits their interest at the time. Hopefully, that’s your product.

— ZK

Ed LynesComment