The art of Simplicity

Today, digital technology enables us to deliver a huge amount of functionalities to all users. However, we are proven time after time that the basic principle of simplicity is very relevant, probably more than ever. Borja de Muller emphasizes the need to find the “just enough” point when exploring what we should offer the users.

As the celebrated American graphic designer Milton Glaser put it a long time ago: “Less isn’t more; just enough is more”. This is what differentiates experiences. This is what differentiates effective communication and marketing. This is what differentiates resource planning. And so it goes in many other dimensions.

Often we hear the importance of “seamless experiences”, “personalization”, “user-centricity”, “new features or functionalities providing a competitive edge”. This is all very relevant, but it is pointless if it is not assessed in the context of simplicity.

Clear of clutter

Typically, adding functionality adds complexity. A careful cost-benefit assessment should be carried out in the form of user tests before getting carried away by the novelty of such functionality. An example of how this is performed (and one that we probably encounter daily) is Google’s homepage. Despite of the complexity behind its search algorithm, and despite the many functionalities that Google provides through its ever-growing product portfolio, its main insignia and gate-away (its homepage) is still clear of any clutter: it is simple. It has “just enough”, and of course, it is very relevant for users. Achieving such simplicity in the delivery of a service is not simple.

There are many examples of the importance of simplicity in design. When looking at its impact vis-à-vis data you always need to have the end user in mind.

At the end of the day, data must be a core enabler to find the balance of the “just enough” in every single touch point we have with the user. Showing a person everything he or she may need or want is not easy to do (specially in a limited space and limited time), and for sure impossible for the user to assimilate.

Knowledge is key

However, if we know more about that user, we know about why he or she is currently using our systems, we have much better chances to be effective on that communication. We have to get that “just enough” point. And companies have to understand that data is the great enabler for that. Achieving such effective engagement with our user will in turn open up many other possibilities.

Data is often regarded as an enabler to add more and better functionality to our products, or display ever more information. However, I believe that the exact opposite view is much more effective.

Data should be leverage to enhance simplicity. Each one of us is best placed to think through how that applies to their business or occupation. Let me give you a couple examples in classifieds:

  • Why should I select a category for an item I am trying to sell? Data and depp learning architectures allow for accurate picture recognition.
  • Why should I search for the relevant content in the platform? Data allows ever-improving accuracy in recommendation algorithms.

Of course, these are only two examples that allow huge simplifications in the way we deliver our service. These technologies, enabled by large processing of data, allow for many other use cases from computer vision to medical diagnosis. And, at the end of the day, it allows to make the delivery of many services simpler. The ones who understand this best and are able to implement it effectively into their areas will be the ones who will succeed and gain the user. In a digital world, this is the final game.