Archive for October, 2008

‘Tis The Gift To Be Simple
October 7, 2008

There is no doubt in my mind, none whatsoever, about what the “next big thing” will be in technology-based product engineering.  Simply put, it will be simplicity. Current thinking is that consumers want options. The more options the better. “It’s what America is all about”, you know, “choices”. But I’m not so sure.

It’s not just that there are something like 70 different kinds of Crest toothpaste, or hundreds, if not thousands, of user options on my Blackberry. It’s that our love affair with choices has made everything ridiculously complicated. I remember a man once tried to sell me car that had a radio with what he called a “parametric equalizer”. It was a series of slide controls designed to contour the sound to my particular vehicle. The dynamics of, oh I don’t know, “Jammin’ Z-90”, might change, you see, depending on the number of people in the passenger cabin, or the relative humidity. And you’d want to take your eyes off the road every once in a while and peak up or attenuate the 80 to 300 hertz range to compensate.  

At first, I thought it was a sign of age, and so I kept my thoughts to myself. Secretly longing for a car radio that had an on-off switch, some push buttons, and maybe a bass-treble knob. Wishing for a cell phone that just rang, for crying out loud, without first insisting I decide what the ring should sound like, how loud it should be, whether of not “I’m sure”, and if I want to “apply” my decision.

But now even my younger friends admit they are tech-taxed texters, and I can fast-forward a few years to when even the most option-agile minds will say “enough!”. It is then, that open-collared, fresh-faced, state-of-the-art marketing whizzes, shall preach about how “people have OD’d on complexity. Consumers now want simplicity. If your design calls for a hundred options, or just two of them, keep it simple!” “The age of simplicity”, they’ll probably call it. Our love-affair with bells and whistles and choices will be seen as a vaguely embarrassing relic of the early 2000s, like Washington Mutual.

Don’t get me wrong, I think “Have It Your Way” is a great idea, and “31 Flavors” is terrific. But like every other kind of excess, there’s a self-regulating aspect to all of this. In the future, things will most certainly swing back toward “simplicity”. And, when you get to 70 kinds of toothpaste. I think the future is now. Am I “Sure”. Yes. “Apply” yes.

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