The Complexity of Simplicity
Isn’t it ironic?
How simple it is to make things complicated. And just how complicated it is to simplify them!
In today’s fast-paced environment, never have people had less time to absorb information. And this is why simplicity is key…
… because it instantly cuts through to your audience.
It is not something most of us are trained to do. It takes hard work and asking a lot of questions. It sometimes means taking up more space not less. A little touch of genius in the background will be needed. And the secret ingredient – courage! But we promise this… it is better. And it does work.
Simplicity is better. It just is!
“Today we’re introducing a new, portable music player that weights a mere 6.5 ounces….”
The jargon description above is true. They were all unique selling points of a new and innovative device – the first iPod. But it was technical. And complex. And most of all it forced you, the reader, the potential customer, to do all the work. You had to read all that information. Try and understand it. And then wrap your head around the real question – so what?
People are busy. You get bombarded with all sorts of messaging and images every day. Your attention span is interrupted constantly. You don’t have time to do the work for brands. If they want you to notice them. To listen. And to act. They need to do that hard thinking behind the scenes and present you with a simple, inspiring and bold reason why you should care… because we’re going to put 1,000 songs in your pocket.
It’s not something most of us are trained to do.
To start simplifying your message, means forgetting everything you learned in school.
“I wandered lonely as a cloud”
What a beautiful line! One that you may well remember writing an essay about. Were you rewarded for the thousands of words you wrote about ‘pathetic fallacy’ and how Wordsworth used this kind of personification of an inanimate object of nature to portray the powerful human emotion of loneliness?
Yip! In academics, we’re all taught to discuss, elaborate and add. To take something simple and complicate it. The fancier the words, the more obscure the observations, the better. And that is useful and important – in education. But it is the exact opposite of what you need to do for your brand.
You’re starting at the other end. You have all the complex information, insights and internal corporate jargon of what you do. What you need to do is whittle it back. And back. And back again… to the simplest, most emotive and concise point you could make.
You need to take that thousand-word essay and create the single line.
It takes hard work and asking a lot of questions.
“Out of clutter. Find simplicity.”
The journey to simplicity involves asking one question, a lot – why? Anyone who has young children will know, while this sounds easy, it’s not. It can be exhausting! But it’s worth it. Because to answer that question, you’ve to consider all the information and distil it down to the key point. It leaves no room for waffling. Keep asking why. And when you think you’ve reached the end, ask why one more time.
In 2016, Fáilte Ireland were launching a new national conference, Food Connect, to explore the story of Irish food and its role contributing billions of euro to tourism.
We asked why?
The answer was to provide an opportunity for food tourism businesses to learn, share and connect.
So we asked why?
Because food inspires travellers. It lights up social media and connects visitors to heritage, culture and people in electrifying ways.
And then asked why again?
Because food is about emotional connections. It connects visitors to a place.
And then we asked ‘why’ one more time and our conference tagline emerged. Its purpose was about…
… Putting Place on a Plate.
It sometimes means taking up more space not less.
“Everything should be made as simple as possible… but not simpler.”
Simplicity doesn’t have to mean shorter. Sometimes your audience need more than a tagline. Whether it’s an information brochure or an annual report… your collateral may need to deliver more than one message.
Just remember, one message at a time.
Don’t try and cram all that information into a few pages. Give your information room to breathe. On each page you’re presenting, simplify and prioritise the key message you’re trying to communicate. And don’t be afraid of white space. It’s not dead space!
You want your key message to pop. Strong visual presentation and headlines that communicate the main point, means that a reader can just skim read and in a few minutes, understand the essence of what each page is about. It allows them to easily navigate to the detail they’re interested in.
It takes a little touch of genius in the background
“Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex. It takes a touch of genius to move in the opposite direction.”
One big challenge with simplifying your messaging is that you may need multiple messages for different audiences. Traditionally that meant ignoring some audiences and prioritising who you spoke to, or trying to be all things to all people and complicating your message. But now, with technology, and hard work behind the scenes it’s possible to present a personalised message to each audience.
For example, for a client that needed to tailor their content for the different levels of awareness of Vitamin D deficiencies, we created a unique and highly advanced interactive presentation, coded in HTML5 and built to sit on an iPad App. Their target audience could interact directly with the material. And based on answers to questions their knowledge base was assessed and the presentation would dynamically adapt and continue with different slides.
It was a hugely complicated build and process for us and the client. But it produced an end user journey and experience that was the ultimate in simplicity.
And you need one last ingredient – courage!
Simplicity’s arch nemesis is FEAR.
After doing all that work to simplify your message to a simple statement or a striking visual, at the last-minute fear can set in.
Why? We’ve found that there are two key reasons:
• Fear that you’ve got it wrong. That people won’t get it and understand it. And it can be so hard to resist the urge to add in extra lines to explain nuances or extra messages to broaden the appeal.
• Fear that you’ll be seen as less. That you’ve oversimplified and will be seen as light, or somehow unprofessional. That you’ve put less work in.
And when these fears set in, extra detail are like a security blanket… you may think what’s the harm in adding in an extra line? One extra graph? One more slide? But each addition adds more clutter that your audience needs to wade through.
Simplicity isn’t just complicated. It’s scary. But be brave and push through it. Because simplicity works. It cuts through the noise. And it will help you instantly connect with your audience.
If you’d like to find out more about simplifying your message or connecting with your audience, we’d love to help. Our door is always open. There’s always tea in the pot, so drop in for a brew and a chat.