How People and Products Suffer From the Disease of More
The Kindergartener Test
How would you explain the purpose of these MacBook Pro keyboard buttons to a 5-year-old? Why are there two alt option buttons the Mac? What do all the F buttons do? What’s the difference between control, option and command?
I work in technology and I couldn’t give a great answer to any of these questions.
Ironically, neither could this elementary teacher on Quora...
How the Disease of More Happens Over Time
Even Apple isn’t immune to the problem of slowly accumulating clutter. Overtime, well intentioned buttons, pages, and features get added to fill the space and then it's difficult to justify removing them.
For example, when the keyboard first came out typists were accustomed to the Shift lock being on typewriters. The standard keyboard renamed the “Shift Lock” to “Caps Lock” and Apple followed suit to give new computer users a familiar experience.
Today, the CAPS lock is antiquated. I’d be willing to bet that more people accidentally hit the CAPS lock each day than actually use it for its intending purpose.
It probably irks at least one Apple Designer that buttons like the CAPS lock and “FN” are still there. But at the end of the day, how do you justify prioritizing the redesign of the standard keyboard when there is so much new stuff to develop?
Steve Jobs said it best:
Many people think the answer to everything is MORE MORE MORE.
“We need to fix this problem with more headcount, more rules, more coffee. more hours at desks, more directions, more buttons, more pages, more details, more text explainers, etc”
Saying yes is easy. Ruthlessly saying no is much harder. ‘More’ people often don’t understand or accept the concept of opportunity cost. ‘More’ people don’t understand the immense cost of maintaining something you decide to do that doesn’t work out.
The School System Trains Kids To Be ‘More’ People
Thanks to the education system and consumer marketing, ‘more’ people are everywhere. We are trained from an early age to want more stuff.
In order to get a good grade on a paper students need to hit a minimum character count, conditioning them to use filler words.
In the real world, a great writer has the ability to distill the essence of a complicated topic down to a sentence or two.
In school, quantity over quality is also rewarded because of the ceiling that is put on you. Check the box and get all your papers and homework assignments in. Doesn’t matter if you write the next “Catcher in the Rye,” the best you can get is an A on the one assignment.
Students are assigned tasks without the ability to say “No” to the request. In the real world, saying “no” is extremely important.
Sidenote: If only writing was taught like this in school:
Ruthlessly Pruning vs Starting Over
Often, the easiest way to simplify is to just start over.
Instead of redesigning the existing product at the risk of alienating loyal users and the original creators, give users the option to choose a simpler alternative.
This is exactly what Intuit did when they added Quickbooks Online.Their original Quickbooks desktop product started off with all manual processes. The design evolved to look overwhelming:
In Quickbooks desktop, there are 4 different ways to get to the same page. Accountants loved it because they were one click away from everything! It was also so intimidating to business owners, it led them to pay a lot of money for accounting.
Additionally, the over-complication of accounting made the Intuit developers and their accountant customers feel like they were doing MORE MORE MORE. After all, it's much easier for executives and customers to perceive value in adding more pages, buttons, and features than hiding or removing clutter.
At the start of the Cloud SAAS revolution, Intuit came out with Quickbooks Online, which was much simpler and easier to use for the average person. Their MVP version was designed for very small businesses with simple accounting needs:
When it first came out, accountants despised Quickbooks Online (QBO). Yes, there were bugs and issues with the new product, but not enough to inspire intense hatred. Accountants simply did not like how QBO demystified and simplified the process.
Over the last 10 years, Intuit shrewdly stuck with the strategy to keep the Desktop product as is, but market the new simplified QBO software directly to business owners. They also moved most of their resources to the QBO development.
If Intuit had made the decision to either
A. Design their cloud based software like Quickbooks desktop or B. Change Quickbooks desktop to look more like Quickbooks online,
it would have been a complete disaster. Their decision has certainly paid off, as they have successfully transitioned to the cloud SAAS model while remaining the dominant D-I-Y accounting software player.
There are other cases where pruning makes sense after considering the audience. How cluttered is our current product? Do you have a customer base that embraces or hates change? Can you take the salesforce/google approach, and give the user the option to stick with the old design?
‘White Rug’ People
The antithesis of the ‘more’ person, is the anal ‘white rug’ person. This is the person who makes everyone take their shoes off at a cocktail party so their precious white rug doesn’t get sullied. They spend so much time worrying about their rug being ruined, they forget to have fun.
Unfortunately, nothing worth doing is every going to be 100% perfect and not have clutter. Sometimes decisions have to be made to add something quickly, and ‘white rug’ people need to learn to accept the occasional clutter without becoming completely demotivated. You can always remove the dirt from the rug once the party is over.
Clutter doesn’t just appear overnight. It happens after a long process of not saying “no” enough. Clutter can accumulate in intense periods of growth, because there’s no time to consider weeding things out.
Clutter happens when you throw a bunch of stuff at the wall to see what sticks.
Of course, you can’t say “no” to everything. Saying yes to a few GREAT things needs to also happen for success.
Before saying “yes,” ask yourself “Could I explain this to a kindergartener?” and “Could I accomplish my goal in a simpler way.”
And lastly, even Apple has clutter on their keyboard. Nothing is perfect.