"Less is more."
It’s a powerful phrase. It’s one of those rare quotes that itself is illustrative of what it’s trying to say. If we decompress it, we’re really saying something like "If you show less, then each thing you show carries more weight."
Taking the thought a bit further, I’d assert that less isn’t only more, "less" is often essential to success. Conversely, "more" often leads to failure. When we release a product, we often want to talk about its power and versatility. Truth is, nobody else wants to hear about that. They want to know – in as simple a manner as possible – why something should matter to them.
A few days ago, Bonnier’s Mag+ design concept video was making the rounds. If you haven’t seen it yet, here it is:
It’s a beautifully produced concept of how a magazine of the future could take shape. What intrigued me isn’t what it does. We’re fairly close, technically, to pulling off what Bonnier is envisioning. I was more interested in what it didn’t propose to do. It isn’t:
- A Netbook tablet
- A portable computer
- A Google OS
- A Wifi/3G/Wimax/4G/whatever-enabled device
It’s not any of those things. It’s purpose is singular and simple to digest: it’s a modern form of the magazine. It embodies the casual experience around interacting with a magazine and nothing more.
Many would suggest that this needs to be a browser that can do anything that a Web browser of today could do, but that would actually harm the narrative around the product. Yes, it’s a narrow in scope, but that’s the power of it.
Rewind back ten years. There were phones out there that were handling email. Some had slide-out keyboards. The Palm Treo was taking hold. If I had proposed to you that I had an idea for a small phone that would effectively become synonymous with portable email, you would’ve laughed me out of the room. The Blackberry didn’t do more than other phones at the time. Instead, it became synonymous with a single basic task: interacting with email on your phone.
Rewind back again. What if I had an idea for a portable device that focused on one single task: recording video. Again, you would’ve trampled on the idea. "Just about every digital camera lets you record video. Hell, many phones have video!" Again, it would’ve been tough to stomach the idea of a device that does just one thing. Yet both the Blackberry and Flip Video stories are important lessons.
They teach us not only that less is more, but also that more is an impediment to adoption. People don’t want to figure out what to do with your product. They want you to draw a straight line between your product and a simple, digestible purpose. The more "powerful, flexible and versatile" your product is, the more alien it’s going to appear to the great majority of people that may take a glance at it.
Ultimately, it’s about the "Sentence Test." If you can’t convey what your product does in a simple, single sentence, then you’ve already cast off a huge swath of your potential audience. There’s one other wrinkle to this. Lean on what people know and build on that. Everyone knows about the "magazine experience." The Bonnier video resonates because we can make that leap from "today" to their vision of the future.
You may think you have something so mind-blowing that nobody’s going to understand it. Their lies the wrinkle. To blow minds, you first have to get inside of them. And to get inside, less isn’t only more, it’s essential.