We share a message from Rick Spence that gives us insights into how Steve Jobs used simplicity as a weapon to make Apple one of the most iconic brands in the world.
We live in an age of frightening complexity. The average instruction manual, user agreement, restaurant menu or TV program guide contains more turgid detail than ever before. Who will save us from rampant complexity?
How about Steve Jobs, or rather his former creative partner Ken Segall — the man who coined the name “iMac.” As a creative director for an ad agency who worked closely with Jobs at both Apple Inc. and NeXT Computer, Segall has just written a book called Insanely Simple: The Obsession that Drives Apple’s Success.
To Jobs, writes Segall, simplicity wasn’t just a corporate value, or even a religion. It was a weapon.
Simplicity means products (Apple II, the Macintosh, iPod) that consumers not only understand, but bond with right out of the box. Throughout Jobs’ career, it meant “insanely great” innovations such as human-oriented design, graphical computer interface vs. the dark mysteries of MSDOS, one button instead of two. He elevated usability to an art, and elegant design to a competitive advantage.
“Every one of Apple’s revolutions was born of the company’s devotion to simplicity,” Segall writes. “Each new device [from Macintosh to iPod to iPhone and iPad] either created a new category or turned an existing category on its head.”
Segall says this from the vantage point of a marketing consultant who worked with not just Apple, but also Intel, Dell and IBM. “I can assure you that Apple’s focus on simplicity is unique.”
The book was written to help other companies master the art of strategic simplicity. “The simpler way isn’t always the easiest. Often it requires more time, more money and more energy — But more times than not, it will lead to memorably better results,” he writes.
Simplicity, says Segall, “needs a champion: someone who’s willing to stand up for its principles and strong enough to resist the overtures of simplicity’s evil twin, complexity.”
“When Apple created the iTunes online music store to feed its iPods, for example, Jobs wrestled with the music industry to make sure songs would cost just 99¢. When Microsoft created the Zunes store for its MP3 players, it opted for a confusing system of ‘Microsoft points,’ which required customers to purchase points by the hundreds, then use a conversion rate of 80 points to the dollar to buy a 99¢ song,” Segall says. At the core of simplicity is common sense, he says. Which isn’t as common as it should be.
Segall’s book offers 10 chapters that explore different aspects of Jobs’s war on complexity. Based on Apple’s iconic slogan “Think Different,” each title gives you a preview of the battles to be fought:
Jobs was painfully blunt in criticizing colleagues’ work. But there was no malice in it; Jobs liked to clear the air. He encouraged others too to be open, honest, and brief. “Blunt is simplicity,” Segall writes. Being vague and holding back just creates complexity.
Apple thinks Big, but operates Small. Segall cites a cardinal rule of simplicity: “Start with small groups of people – and keep them small. Every time the body count goes higher, you’re simply inviting complexity to take a seat at the table.”
Think Minimal In 1998, Jobs, newly returned as chief executive, slashed the number of product categories to four. Under less visionary leaders, Apple had lost its mojo by trying to do too much. Says Segall: “Complexity loves nothing more than a sea of choices.”
Think Motion New projects should consume their participants from the get-go, Segall says. “Only when people are kept in conscious motion do they stay focused with the right kind of intensity.”
Apple worked for years to explain why its hardware and software were better than Microsoft’s. It finally scored big when it found two actors to portray the iconic characters of Mac (cool) and PC (not so much). Icons are shorthand ways to express complex ideas.
Names matter, and simple is best. Apple’s computers are Macs, and its consumer products start with “i.” Forget Vostro, Inspiron, Curve and Citrus: product names should express a simple brand message.
Jobs avoided stuffiness, formality and other characteristics he considered corporate behaviour. As he often said to Segall, “Just stop being ad agency guys and talk to me.”
Apple took pride in being the most personal technology company. It didn’t position the original iPod as a 6.5-ounce music player with a five-gig drive. It simply said: “1,000 songs in your pocket.”
Jobs’s attitude was: Never trust the experts, and don’t worry about the lawyers. “Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your inner voice,” he said.
In 1998, Apple risked serious litigation by producing an ad campaign showing how Apple computers outperformed PCs running on Intel processors. “Creating a war with Intel,” says Segall, was a very effective way of getting people to focus on one thing: taking Macs seriously as a PC alternative.”