Minimal yet relevant

Doing a lot is not necessarily good. But doing the right thing in small quantity can be much more beneficial and profitable.

This post kicks featuritis in the butt. What most people want is a single sharp knife, not a bunch of blunt swiss army knife. But what do I mean?

Once upon a time…

iPod. There are plenty of music players on the market when Steve Jobs conceives the idea of a music player that stores 1,000 songs in your pocket. All the existing music players are either expensive, bulky (disc walkman), can store very little songs (Flash and CDs) and simply have terrible yucky design. Steve Jobs wanted something different.

Instead of packing bunch of functions onto the iPod, such as playlist management or so, Apple took a lot of irrelevant and messy features away, delegated these jobs to iTunes, but give the iPod some features that make it so great, so minimal, so easy, but most important, so relevant to its users. The Click-Wheel that let you scroll through 1,000 songs (now 40,000, they say), the Firewire cable that syncs all the songs in just 10 minutes, 10 seconds per CD.

Of course that time lots of tech blogs condemned its horrible price tag of USD$399, just like what they still do to iPhone, iPad, Macs. But consumers buy it, because Apple did what matters most and best to consumers, they solved real problems: To make music players fast, store plenty of songs and look cool.

iPad is certainly not the first and is certainly not the most feature-packed tablet you can buy from market. For a decade there has been tablets on the market, running Windows, the same exact operating system you run on your desktops and laptops. But they didn’t take off.

iPad is made to be extremely portable (<1kg), runs fast (using flash storage) and has touch-optimized interface. But what makes it so welcoming is the price tag, at $499 it was a great deal. Of course tech blogs again, condemn that Apple just produced a larger iPod Touch.

What happens after iPad is available to masses? It sells. It still sells. People love products that look remarkable, work remarkably and don’t need to come with a manual. Kids can pick it up and just start to fling birds around. While seniors can tap on the mail envelope icon and start checking e-mails. Wonderful.

iPhone. The phone that reinvented the phone. It comes with just a screen and a few buttons. And the first version contains much less features than its competitors. But why did it sell? Apple managed to hit the sweet spot of balance between usability and features, and people buy that.

For me, I do not want to buy a feature-packed phone that I don’t know how to use, or I need to waste my time around, or that drains away my energy instead of empowering me (Android). Just give me a phone I can use based solely on my common sense, and leaves me good impression.

Problem with featuritis

Featuritis is a bad result of the negative mentality and insecurity of the creator of the product. They think by simply pumping the number of features or words, their product is worth more than its competitors. Far from truth.

That means you do not do your homework to understand people, your audience and ultimately the one that pays you – customers.

Featuritis is pure laziness. Instead of going deep down and dig up the truth, you skip it and you went on and do plenty of stuff that do not matter. Functions and features we don’t need but served solely as marketing gimmick. Choose from the most used tags

Some people do buy featuritis products, that is Okay. These buyers are usually wallet-conscious, they rather spend a bit less money on a lot more functions they probably won’t use, and they don’t care about the crippled user experience. Some of the featuritis fans went on and post ‘iPhone users have more money than sense’-like posts on various web sites. But they don’t realize that some of us just don’t want to get hands dirty in some details, and I love decent user experience Apple has to offer that’s all.

Example #1 Slide shows

In my college, except myself, everybody else adopts featuritis in their slide preparation. This is the typical featuritis mindset when it comes to this:

  • By putting more words on slides, lecturers and my peers will know I did my homework well
  • I can get more scores by writing more bullet points
  • Diagrams and pictures do not convey info and shows I cannot come up with my own words
  • I do not need to memorize if I can use PowerPoint as teleprompter
  • Everybody does it this way, so I will follow suit and call it a day.

Soon I realize this PowerPoint hell, I tried to do some research on how to deliver a better presentation, I have read Garr’s Presentation Zen, Nancy’s Slide:ology, Scott’s Confession of Public Speaker and Alexei’s Presentation Secret. All of them share a principle: be minimal yet relevant.

There is a difference between presentation and reporting. Presentation involves persuasion, deliver the key point (hence the name POWERpoint), and make sure your audience absorb your story and went on buying your products. Reports on the other hand, allow readers to optionally obtain information from sections he cares about. Presentation simply does not offer that flexibility to audience.

Extract what matters most, and what is the most special and present it. Only the best and unique part gets presented, others can be delivered in the form of handouts and reports.

Understand a few things:

  • No one cares about your college presentation – so make it quick and less torturing to everybody
  • People only care when you present special parts – the info and dataset that are similar to everyone else? Cut it short, even lecturers don’t care about that, he/she will read that in your report

Click here to check out my first and second Research Methods for Degree Study slideshow.

Adopt the minimal + relevant mindset in your next presentation, and stick to this principle until you graduate, and throughout your career, you can belanja me teh tarik later.

Example #2 iPhone vs Android smartphones

There are a few camps of smartphone users on the Internet:

  • iPhone users that buy new iPhone after the old phone gone lemon or simply outdated
  • Android users who hope by spending small amount of money and get plenty of functions and performance
  • Nokia Windows Phone users who buy their phones for self-defense or for its toughness
  • Blackberry users who love BBM a lot and have a lot of BBM friends

Perhaps the noisiest ones are the Android fanboys, I have ran into a few of them, their argument surrounds only a few things: value for money, freedom of hacking and CPU speed.

True, Android is superior in terms of these, but as an iPhone user and lover, not a fanboy, I got a few things to say.

It is JUST A PHONE, It helps me do stuff, and I don’t expect it to behave the same way like my laptop which is a Swiss army knife. I want to call, message when I need to. I don’t want a phone that can be bricked randomly, or requires me to dive deep into technicalities. Protect me from those stuffs, and just give me a working smartphone that let me call, message, check e-mail, Facebook.

iPhone and Nokia are pretty much superior in terms of build quality, something you won’t be able to find on Android devices made by Samsung, HTC, except Sony. My iPod Touch 2G have lasted about 4 years, the battery still lasts and only the buttons are spoilt. But I got another phone from my eldest sister – HTC Wildfire, it is only used for 2 years and the battery cannot hold charge already.

At the end, I want a phone that can lasts and perform well enough, but not bloated with features. Long lasting and simplicity matters a lot. A phone with plenty of functions that cannot lasts is not a good phone.

Example #3 Web sites

Minimalism is the trend of web pages nowadays. Not only users don’t need much eye movement or treasure hunting to find the content they want and care about, minimalistic web page tend to consume much less time and bandwidth to load as well. Amazon has said that with every 100ms reduction in loading time, their revenue increases by 1% (source).

Comparing Google homepage with Yahoo!’s messy and cluttered homepage. People tend to like Google a bit more, probably because of its rockstar searching algorithm, but also it’s because the purpose of the site is clear – to search. Distraction-free.

The moral is, put only the stuffs that matter most to your visitors and you will win them. For instance, blogs, Anonoz Burps looks so minimal because I think that people come and only want to pay for the bandwidth of the article, not widgets and background music and so. Articles are the core, the centre and the ultimate reason of existence of a blog. So focus on that, no one likes distracting backgrounds and widgets. Whatever that seems trivial and useless are stripped away.

One more thing…

Minimalism is a science, know what and when to remove an element and knowing what to be added back are not so simple. Like Robert Browning wrote in his poem, “Less is More”, we hope to achieve greater and better effects by leaving only the most important essence behind. And the essence should be highly relatable to the people that matters most in any context.

Author: Anonoz Chong

Web Developer in Kuala Lumpur. Computer Science student in MMU Cyberjaya. President of IT Society MMU Cyberjaya. Rubyist.

2 thoughts on “Minimal yet relevant”

  1. very informative post. I totally agree with you with the phrase ‘Less is more’… The topic minimalism really caught my attention to finish reading your entire post . Good job. 😉

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