Leveraging Simplicity in Software

Leveraging Simplicity in Software

I was recently shopping online for shoes. Simple thing: pick a model and a size, enter my address and pay for them. Well, not always simple.

Do you know this kind of online store where checkout feels like a never ending story?

First, they make you create an account. Come up with yet another password and open your e-mail to confirm registration. It's probably where a lot of their clients leave. But not me, I really want those shoes.

Then you need to enter your address. Just in case, you have to enter the address twice - one for the delivery and second for invoice which you don't really care about.

Now, all that's left is to choose a delivery company and to pay. You can choose PayPal, credit card, wire transfer or pay upon delivery. Well, at least if one of them doesn't work, you can try a different one, right?

Half an hour later, you've finished your order. Your new pair of shoes is on its way.

But wait, what if you've made a mistake? Did you double check everything? With so many options there's so many things that could've gone wrong.

Does It Have to Be Difficult?

Looking from this perspective, selling a pair of shoes must be an extremely complicated process. Is it really?

If you go to Amazon, you'll see that they've simplified the whole process to a single step. All you need to do is to click a single button and you'll get the thing delivered at your door.

Does the simpler process work? Yes. It works so well that they've patented it.

Take a look around and you'll see that all the products that people use every day have one thing in common. They simplify things.

Google for example, consumes the whole internet, indexes its content and lets people search for the information they need. Complex under the hood, it delivers a simple user interface. You don't have to learn anything. All you have to do is to type a few words and you'll see what you're looking for. It made Yellow Pages irrelevant.

Netflix made watching movies as simple as possible

When Netflix was founded, it's competitors used the well tested model of renting DVDs through their chains of stores. It meant that if you spontaneously decided to watch a movie on a Friday night, you had to drive to a store, rent a DVD and bring it back home. Then, you had to return it in a few days. If you didn't make it on time, it meant paying additional fees. It wasn't convenient at all.

Netflix removed this painful step by delivering movies directly to your door using mail (and later through the internet).

It worked well not only for their customers but also for Netflix itself. When Blockbuster was struggling with profitability of some of their stores, Netflix simply didn't have stores.

If these things can be simple, why would anything else be difficult?

People Are Looking for Shortcuts

Do you enjoy reading user manuals before using things? If not, that's fine.

Reading user manuals can be frustrating

Most people want products to be magical. Not the unpredictable magic that's hard to explain, but the magic that makes things easy. They're looking for shortcuts that will let them do things faster, without spending too much time on learning.

Companies that keep things simple have a huge advantage here. What addresses these needs better than a product that makes your life easier and it's so simple that you can start using it right away?

These products don't need explanation to win users' trust. They're right there, ready to be used and to get their users' money.

Simplicity Scales

Acquiring users is only the first step. Once a new user signs up, they may still need company's attention.

Sometimes they need to get a proper onboarding. If the product is difficult to use by design, new users will have a lot of questions that will be impossible to address in an interactive tutorial or a video. Companies need to then put in extra effort and manually help their users set their first steps.

Customer support

Then, there's support. The more choices there are in a product, the more space there is for users to make mistakes. They may also be overwhelmed by the amount of options they have. A lot of them will end up calling customer support.

Doing these things manually works well at the beginning, but becomes a bottleneck once the company starts acquiring more and more users. That's where simplicity comes in. It's easy to introduce new users to simple solutions and it's also easier to make simple solutions error proof.

Achieving Simplicity

Simplifying products can be a long process. Contrary to what it may seem like, it requires a deep understanding of not only the technical solution but also the human who'll be using it.

Most of the users use only a small set of every product's features. It's important to understand which ones people use the most. Analytics tools may come in handy here.

Those are the features that may be worth looking into. They already serve a lot of people, so you have a chance to make a lot of lives even easier.

Then, learn more about why people keep using them. There's no better tool for that than talking directly to the users and getting their feedback.

Taking a step back

With that knowledge, take a step back from the solution and see how it aligns with the problem your users are facing. Question every step and every option that they need to take to use your product. Does it really help or maybe it's just an unnecessary distraction?

Make it as simple as possible.

What about users who need more advanced features? You can still address these needs, but with lower priority and without distracting the majority of users. Speaking of that - did you know that you can do complex searches in Google? They even have a separate page that lets you specify various conditions.

Despite having these features, they don't bother you with the choice unless you need it. If they did, you probably wouldn't use it.

So, stop overthinking. Stay focused and keep simplifying!

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