After driving over my wired Apple headphones with my car and smashing an earpiece, then churning through two rounds of cheap headphone knockoffs, I invested in a pair of Apple AirPods. A newbie to the wireless headphone world, I opened the box with my headphones anticipating a 30 minute set up and synchronization process with my devices. Much to my delight, I was finished with the three-step setup in 30 seconds. After that, I started making calls, listening to podcasts, and enjoying the hands-free mobility I now had with my AirPods.
Using my AirPods gave me a new perspective on the user experience. It showed me that end-users typically do not value the complexity of a design, a process, or a piece of technology, particularly when they interact with it on an infrequent basis and are not an expert in the product or service. Apple designed the setup and operation of an amazing piece of technology to be simple enough that someone (like me) who is not tech savvy and who cannot appreciate the sophistication of the technology could start using it in less than one minute. I realized something important from this experience: the impact of making the complex seem simple for the user.
Over the past few months, I’ve found a few simple ways to apply this concept (no pun intended):
Categorize in threes. Humans can remember three to four things in their short-term memory. By categorizing steps in a process or points in a presentation in threes, your audience or users will have an easier time committing them to memory compared to a detailed, ten-step process.
Create mnemonic devices or other language tricks. Mnemonic devices use acronyms or other tricks to help with memorization. A common mnemonic device is a saying to remember the order of the plants and Pluto: “My Very Educated Mother Just Served Us Nine Pizzas” becomes Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto. You could apply this at work by creating a fun phrase to assist with memorization of something longer than three or four steps, or try something like starting each word on the list with the same letter. For example, in this list each item starts with the letter C".
Continue appropriate use of complexity. Effective application of simplicity comes from communicating complexity in a simple way rather than simplifying the actual design or details. A financial analysis in Excel would lose depth and insights if you simplified the analysis. In that situation, to simplify it for your audience, you might add a one-page executive summary that explains the conclusions and methodology of the analysis, including links and footnotes if the audience wants to dig into the details.
A colleague of mine has often said that “selling is communicating in a way people can understand”. Even if you aren’t in a sales role, you are selling yourself every day at work. Simplifying your communication can help you sell the most important product or service you will ever represent - you.