Consumer Behaviour

Elegance and Strategy

I’ve recently run into a string of services and products that have created all kinds of complexity and confusion in my life. 

First I installed a new printer which came with a whole bunch of features that I didn’t want, and then, added a bunch of stuff to my desktop that I didn’t want and will never use. But without a PhD in programming, I couldn’t figure out how to not get these features that some engineer dreamed up.  The installation took 30 minutes to install stuff I didn’t need or want.

Then, I attempted to get an appointment with an orthopeadic surgeon, only to find out it will take six weeks just to get the date of the appointment. The referring doctor’s receptionist explained a very complicated system for booking appointments that made no sense at all to me.  And to top it all off, they will snail mail me the info with the appointment. Takes longer and is more expensive than an email.

Complexity is expensive for both the customer and the company. It takes time and money to manage complexity. And often complexity makes a product worse, not better. (Can you remember programming VCRs?)

Elegance or simplicity is key to successful design.  The customer or user’s experience is critical. Making something simple to use, without stuff they don’t need is really important to that experience.

Google used to be a great example of elegance at work. A very simple interface, designed to do one thing – help the user search for the most useful information possible. The simplicity of the interface concealed the complexity of the algorithm that drives it.  Compare Google to MSN or other old school search engines and you see the clash of elegance vs multifunctional complexity.  The more you try to get a product to do, the more complicated it gets.  As Google grew it became more and more complicated for it to retain its’ original elegance.  They’ve done a much better job than many of the other websites out there – it’s still clean and relatively easy to navigate.  But I have to wonder how Google is going to manage any further new service launches.  At some point, it’s going to get complicated.

As I get older, I’m more interested in things that are simple and beautiful.  Less truly is more. But this means that they have to be perfect, because imperfection is easily noticed in something that is simple. Elegance is difficult to achieve. It means making difficult choices. It means not falling prey to shiny object syndrome.  Avoiding the “wouldn’t it be cool” to add this or that. The best products are the ones that a) do what they are supposed to; b) don’t do anything else; and c) are easy to use.


3 replies »

  1. I think Google is still a good example of simplicity. It really is the best of both worlds: simple for those who want simple, yet there’s much more if you go clicking for it.

  2. Hi Coleen
    I couldn’t agree more. TV/CD players and photographic equipment are good examples. I recently bought a new toaster oven and even that is more complex than it needs to be!

  3. Complexity sometimes exists in products or services, because of the provider’s belief that the consumer wants more choice rather than less. I think you have written about that before. Sometimes this belief by the provider is a fallacy. You may recall in the past when we were dining out, and I would sometimes look at an extensive menu unable to decide on what to order. I would make a comment like.”I miss communism” in reference to how easy it is to choose when there is no choice. Providers need to determine what amount of choice is right for their consumer. Sounds like a job for a Marketer!

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