Simple is Really Hard

February 6, 2012

We were recently charged to create a new logo for a client.  When presented, the logo was approved because it was simple and clear.  But it took a lot of work to make it simple and clear.  When you see something simple, clear and, well obviously fitting, it is easy to assume it was simple to do.

For example, the iPod is so simple.  It is intuitive.  While it is functional, many consider it a thing of beauty.

If it is so simple, why did it take so long to be created.  People were using mp3s and other digital music forms since the early 1990s.  The first iPod didn’t show up until 2001.  It was easily and simply incorporated into our lives.  The beauty of the iPod may be its simplicity.

The recent biography of Steve Jobs revealed much of the torment and process that went into getting it to where it was simple and almost organic.  And it was not fast and easy.

Simplicity is deceptively hard to achieve.  The same is true for many other things, like science where Occam’s Razor which is often summarized as “simpler explanations are, other things being equal, generally better than more complex ones.”

“If I had more time, I would have written a shorter letter.” Often credited to many (Churchill, Shaw, etc.) but according to Wikipedia it is from Marcus Tullius Cicero, Roman philosopher and statesman.

The same is true for advertising and marketing communications.  Deceptively simple ideas are the hardest to develop.  You have to dive into complexity and come out clean.  You have to distill the good bits from all the information.

To do this effectively you need two things: experience and a knack.

You need the experience to be able to filter out all the irrelevant information.

Customers want a certain amount of information to make a decision, but they don’t want too much.  Too much information is counter productive to communication. Without the experience to help distill what is key to your target, you run the risk of complicating your message.  As Michelangelo is credited with saying: “It is easy. You just chip away the stone that doesn’t look like David.”

While experience can help you distill your message, creating a provocative and memorable message requires some talent to start with… a knack for the catchy, for the insight.  Hard work and experience alone won’t get you there.  Having the knack is a bit of a gift that those successful in advertising seem to have.  You can’t learn it.  But you can hire it.

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