The Shift from Simply Working to Working Simply

What if the automobile industry decided that giving you more control over your vehicle would make it easier and safer to drive? What if they added 50 more buttons, gages, and switches to your car’s dashboard, in an attempt to give you a better understanding of how well you operate your vehicle? You could do things like better control parallel parking, make safer left turns, gage how well you’re staying in your lane, and understand how much you negatively impact other drivers.

Would these things make driving easier, or harder? Would more people pass their drivers test, or would more fail?

Most importantly, would all this functionality make the roads a safer place?

It was around 2009 when I first began to understand the answer to my metaphorical question. I had about 30 employees, and was running payroll, like I did every month. At the time, I was using QuickBooks desktop, the most well known payroll software on the market. My accountant, HR people, and other business owners I had spoken with all recommended QuickBooks. It was the biggest name in the payroll software space, at the time.

After using QuickBook for a year or so, I found myself sitting in my office one day, staring at their endless sea of fields, links, and buttons. Then, it suddenly occurred to me that my breathing was heavier, my heart rate was up, and my hand was grasping my forehead like I was taking a test in high school that I hadn’t prepared for. This software was beyond overly complicated. There were too many options, too many links, and too many buttons to remember.

How could this be so confusing? This was like my 30th time running payroll, and I still found myself getting lost in their software.

Keep in mind, I was about 29 years old, and one of the services my company provided was developing software. So, I’ve always been pretty tech savvy, and using payroll software should have been a walk in the park.

After leaning back in my chair, and staring at on empty space on the wall for a bit, I suddenly realized the problem. As great as this software was, it was actually too great. It had too many buttons, too many gages, too many options, and overall, too much functionality.

Paradox of Choice

This is was the paradox of choice. Endless options and choices, thus making the decision process a nightmare. Out of the 5,000 buttons, options and features QuickBooks gave me, I only really needed about 10.

So I started Googling…

I remember Googling, “Simple Accounting Software”. I didn’t know exactly what I was looking for, but I did know the most important keyword was, “simple”.

After clicking on a few results, I stumbled upon something called “Less Accounting”. Brilliant name, but their tagline was even more brilliant. “All accounting software sucks, we just suck the least.” I was intrigued and beyond excited. So, I signed up for the 30 day trial, and off I went.

Please note, that this is not an endorsement for Less Accounting. They have no idea I’m writing this article. This is a 100% true story, and just happens to be a perfect example of the point I’m trying to make.

Their trial was a breath of fresh air. Instead of 5,000 buttons and options, they had about 15. They only offered the most basic and essential accounting functionality. They removed everything else, making this software the easiest freaking accounting software I had ever used.

I was in accounting heaven.

This company figured out that making something work wasn’t the goal anymore. The new goal was to make something work as simple as possible.

And that’s my point. We’re shifting out of an era of technology where the goal was to simply get things to work, and into an era where we strive to make things work simply. And an easy and effective way to do that, is to remove functionality, not to add it.

Working is now a given, simple is not.

A similar situation happened to me a few years later when I launched my first SaaS startup. I needed customer support software, so of course, the first place I went was Again, being a very tech savvy user, I thought using Desk would be super easy. Wrong. It was impossible. I spent hours trying to figure how to setup everything. It was so overly complicated and so overly bloated leaving me beyond frustrated.

However, the one thing they did right was implement an exit survey, which I happily took after I ended the trial and left the site for good. They knew the software was too bloated with features, hence why it was one options I could select when telling them why I was not going to use their software.

Long story short, I found, and thus found support software heaven. I knew I was in love from the moment I read their headline, “Simple Help Desk Software”. Enough said.

At some point in time, the technology industry forgot its purpose. We forgot that technology exists to make our lives easier. We were so focused on getting things to work, we forgot to make things work in the simplest way.

We don’t want unlimited choices and options, we subconsciously want fewer.

We don’t want more buttons, gages, and switches on our cars. We want less choices and less decisions, hence the race to autonomous cars.

Less functionality equals better functionality.

Steve Jobs once said, “I’m as proud of what we don’t do as I am of what we do.”; which is probably why the iOS platform has far less features and functionality than the Android platform.

A few years ago, I remember switching over to Android for about 6 months, just to see what I was missing. I had the big and all powerful Note 2. At the time it was the top mobile device using the Android platform. This phone did everything, which I probably the reason I hated it.

While using the Android device, I remember constantly wondering why there was so much functionality. Why are there so many different ways to control the volume of my phone? Volume should go up and down, end of story, right?

So, I switched back to Apple to regain that super important word again, “simplicity”.

Of course, most non-Apple users poked fun at the long slow process at which Apple rolls out new, and seemingly existing, functionality. But Jobs and Apple knew better. More functionality didn’t mean better functionality. More functionality just meant more dreadful choices.

Adding functionality is now the easy part. Removing it is the hard part.  The same goes for simplicity. Making something very simple is actually very hard.

To Conclude

Simple has to be the goal, always. Otherwise, what’s the point of technology?

Of course, you will have power users who don’t mind complex technology, but the vast majority of humans want simple. So, instead of thinking about what functionality you can add, think about what you can remove. Instead of adding buttons and links, consider which buttons and links are the essential ones, and remove the rest. Give your users an easy choice, and make the decision process a simple one.

Just a thought.