Sophisticated relationships are the product of simplicity. You could begin a relationship with someone on the other side of the world, but its sophistication would remain quite juvenile; the distance makes it complex. However, if that person moved across the street, your relationship would have more opportunity to flourish.
Complexity is predictable in relationships, but a bond will rarely survive continuous strife. So, we gravitate towards people who are easy to get along with. This criteria is defined in different regards: geographical proximity, conversation flow, harmony of beliefs and so on.
Simplicity is even more important when it comes to the products we choose. Our assessment of simplicity with a product is often more fickle than with a person. This is especially true on the internet where options are bountiful and only a click away. It’s our responsibility as designers to ensure every aspect of the experience has as little friction as possible.
It’s easy to inaccuracy complexity for sophistication. And quite often, products and interfaces are made unnecessarily complex with extraneous features. As designers, we need to recognize that a truly sophisticated experience is one that transforms complexity instead of accentuating it.
Apple vs. Microsoft
Let’s compare the support pages of Apple and Microsoft and gain an easy friction analysis — an evaluation of how easy it is for a user to attain a goal. We’ll assume the user has arrived at this page in need of some support with their operating system. Areas of the page offering contact with a human have been highlighted in green to point out low friction as it puts the problem-solving in the hands of the company. Yellow areas designate self-help mechanisms, which add mild friction. If an area is irrelevant or offers very little help, it has been marked in red.
Apple offers less friction in their customer support process and, and in doing so, strengthens the relationships with their customers. They propose more self-help options and many more ways of contacting an actual person. It’s interesting that Microsoft devotes nearly half of their page to push products, social media and news. They ignore the fact that someone is going there for help. It’s like trying to confide in a friend, but instead of offering guidance, they ask you to buy some Girl Scout cookies and suggest that Thin Mints taste even better frozen. It makes things tricky and hurts the long-term relationship.
Netflix vs. Blockbuster
Started in 1985, Blockbuster once ran supreme as the media rental giant. Brick-and-mortar stores across the country offered convenient access to movies. Instead of purchasing a movie, you could simply rent it. It seems trivial today, but the idea was novel at the time.
Blockbuster quickly grew into a multi-billion dollar empire with thousands of stores in the U.S. and seventeen other countries. However, Blockbuster is currently in Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Why?
Consumer needs drive the evolution of simplicity, and Blockbuster failed to address the complexities in their business model. Why should we be required to drive to a store to pick up and return movies? Why should movie rentals be so expensive? And why should we be charged late fees? Netflix addressed these questions, and took an evolutionary leap by harnessing the power of the web.
Netflix’s rental-by-mail service revolutionized the industry. Browsing movie choices on your home computer is much easier than going to a store only to realize the movie you want is out of stock. Because Netflix offered a subscription instead of a pay-as-you-go model, they removed even more complexity from the process by eliminating due dates and late fees.
Unlike Blockbuster, Netflix did not just change the industry once and ride the wave. They continued to innovate. Realizing the complexities in their own business model, they introduced a new solution to simplify things even further: on-demand streaming. Members can instantly stream a movie to their home computer, cellphone, iPad, gaming console, DVD player or one of many other devices. By removing friction, they built stronger relationships with their audience.
Netflix and Blockbuster both offer the same experience: entertainment. However, Netflix made the process of achieving that experience much simpler. The evolution of an industry is driven by demand, but determined by simplicity. Netflix knew this, and became a blockbuster of its own.
The satisfaction of a reward is driven by desire. The stronger the desire, the greater the satisfaction. In order to build someone’s desire, there must be something concrete that they lack. Traditional advertising often features a sexy celebrity using their product. In addition to its sex appeal, this technique also outlines numerous deficits which we desire to fill. We may lack the product, but more importantly, we lack celebrity. Fame has been elevated to a virtue within our society, and it’s perceived to be extremely satisfying.
By paralleling a product with a celebrity, brands aim to raise the perceived satisfaction of their product (for more on this, pick up a copy of Cialdini’s Influence). You may have had no previous desire for the product, but the advertiser unveiled something you lack, and that lacking triggers the emotion of desire.
Another common way of increasing satisfaction is through challenge. We, as humans, love a good challenge. Puzzles, sports, even video games are all unnecessary challenges that we willingly bring into our lives. Defeating an opponent, whether concrete (e.g. an opposing sports team) or more abstract (e.g. solving a puzzle), offers a sense of satisfaction.
Challenge must be carefully managed, because it goes against the bonding power of simplicity. Desire will increase as things become more difficult, but only to a point. Once the amount of difficulty outweighs the anticipated satisfaction, people become frustrated. And frustration can flip peoples’ desire for reward into desire for your demise.