Each company wants to build the next unicorn. The next Facebook, the next Twitter, the next Quora. But this is rarely what they accomplish. I’ve seen it time and time again.
A simple service that started out doing exactly what the users or what the customer wanted and nothing more, “has evolved” by adding features over features until it was far from the simple and useful service it once was. Take a moment and think about it. Whether is by customer request, market studies or competition matching, most of the teams over-complicate their product to the point where the rate of adoption starts to “inexplicably” drop.
A counter-example is 37signals. They’ve started out by “underperforming” compared to the competition. If the competition was offering an outstanding service with everything-but-the-kitchen-sink in it, they’d offer the most simple, working counterpart. The simple alternative. And, as expected, the simple alternative provided them with a whole lot more users, as using their products instead of the “big and complex ones” was the path of least resistance.
Think about the Chinese tech gizmos all around us, including drones, MP3 players or smartphones, produced by companies we have never heard about, whose names are impossible to pronounce or even read. As tech products, they’re catchy and even looking good, especially in presentation photos, but they often break as soon as possible, their instructions are usually hard if not impossible to understand, and their usage on a day to day basis tends to quickly reveal design flaws.
And that’s because they’re cheap. Because someone did not spend enough time or resources designing them. Because production is cheap and shipping is usually free. And, in this modern consumerist society, some people just can’t resist spending money on them, therefore supporting this industry in producing more and more similar products.
Services are the same. These days, if you have a business, you can just “slap” a WordPress presentation site with a $20 theme bought on ThemeForest, add some backend administration area and you’re done! You have a running business even before you think about a name for it or even before the company paperwork comes out. And the issue I have with this is that it is getting harder to tell them apart from the hard-working teams that sweat to bring out to life simple but useful products or services.
Of course, the temptation is high. If you’re building a CRM, and you look around at the other CRMs, you see that they do this and that. . And yours, doesn’t. When you describe your grand idea to a friend or investor, they ask “What does your service offer that all the other services don’t?”. So what do you usually do? Add the X, Y and Z features to your CRM. Then you run out of alphabet letters and switch to numbers, because those never end. Why? Because targets, and sales, and investors, and stakeholders. Because the management wants to see a breathtaking, neverending, surging sales chart. Because they want to see a 10x return of investment when they sell out to the “next big fish”.
Now, connect this fact with the reality that users are being bombarded with notifications and apps and messages, shortening their attention span, and what do you get? Instead of on-boarding users to your product, you’re off-boarding them. They feel overwhelmed by the vast knowhow required to use your tool. And if a colleague tells them he or she found an easy-to-use service that just does the job, off they go.
This is why I bet my money on simple, clean, easy-to-use products that do one thing and they do it really well. No extra fuss, no fanfare, no bling-bling, just the core. This is why we gave up Zendesk and switched to Groove. This is why we tried Asana, Podio, Pagico, JIRA and finally settled with Trello. This is why I’ve started programming in Zend Studio, then Eclipse, then PHPStorm and finally Sublime Text. Because each of them gradually got more complicated and slow, providing absurd tools such as automations and frameworks that I never knew existed, let alone used. Layers and layers of complexity added on top, making the software harder to use with each update. Until a simpler one emerged.
Simple is the new extraordinary!
So, stick with simple!
Simple will always be the right approach.
We, as humans, have evolved, but not to the point where we instantly understand and assimilate everything around us. We still need to cross some bridges, even burn them down, learn, adapt and move on. But we’ll still love simple things. Even if we don’t want to admit it.