Less is More

(This story was originally published on my medium profile in 2014, and as a result the prices and the products mentioned are out of date. Nonetheless, the gist of this article is still relevant, so I decided to post it here.)

When a friend of mine and I decided to start writing, our first obvious question was, what are we going to use as a platform for writing? After all, we had so many choices to pick from. Among the ones we considered were WordPress, Medium, building up our own CMS, using bootstrap, brix and we would have continued to discuss a few more had there not been a lack of time. Finally, we decided — we don’t know.

Always having too many choices, is not necessarily a good thing. Choices = Complexity. Of course we need to have choices and they are extremely important. But like most things in life, there’s a trade off with having too many of them.

The following graphs shows how having choices in early stages (in other words having some choices) is helpful and positive but once we go beyond a certain number, it actually adds more negativity than productivity. Having a few choices is important and positive but after a certain point, adding more choices only adds to the woes.

Source: Scientific American

(I was trying to chart out something like a graph of choices vs. complexities showing how having too many choices could actually be bad but I didn’t have any research data to base my numbers on so I searched for something similar. Sure enough, it seems there’s already a study that concludes the exact same thing.)

In simpler terms, more choices = more congnitive overhead (in Ben Thompson’s words). This is an important consideration because this means that for things that we do frequently, perhaps multiple times a day, we should try to minimize this congnitive overhead to increase productivity.

As an example, here’s a picture I took just today that perhaps says it all. One of these is not like the other.

My TV remote offers far more “choices” in terms of control to accomplish only some basic tasks. On the other hand, my Apple TV remote offers very few controls and accomplishes many advanced tasks. You might say, it’s unfair to compare a “dumb” TV remote with an Apple TV. Just look the thickness of the two remotes. The difference is night and day.

So here’s another picture of my Roku streaming stick which is positioned as a competitor to Apple TV. The situation is a little better here but not much different. There are still many “choices” that I won’t need even on a weekly basis. If I am not going to use something at least once in a week, why does it get that premium space on my remote. It simply adds to the clutter. I don’t want to stop here though. The Roku TV sells for $50 and targetted towards market that is looking for cheaper options. Let’s look at something that is also priced at $100 as Apple TV and is targetted for the same market.

Amazon releazed Fire TV recently that sells for $100 similar to Apple TV. Feature by feature, they are very similar products. Image source: DapperGuide

This one seems much much better than the ones above, however, notice how there are separate ‘rewind’, ‘forward’ and ‘play-pause’ buttons. Apple TV manages to pack all of those functions in one simple button. Also, notice how there are separate ‘back’, ‘home’ and ‘options/menu’ button on Fire TV remote. There’s one ‘menu’ button on Apple TV that accomplishes all of these tasks. A single button in both of these cases behaves differently depending on the context.

There’s a famous quote by a French writer, Antoine de Saint-Exupery.

Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.

Apple best explains this in the video below.

Technology today is moving faster than ever. We are making exponential progress in many areas and are seeing explosion of new systems and solutions. Our focus should be to create simple and optimized solutions. Simple = Less = Optimized. This quote from Steve Jobs summarizes it perfectly:

Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains

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