Cut the Crap

Mark Parker got a call from Steve Jobs to congratulate him on just recently becoming Nike’s new CEO. Before Mark was CEO he and Jobs collaborated on Nike Plus. Before signing off, Mark asked Steve if he had any advice for him. Here’s how the conversation went. “Do you have any advice?”  Parker asked Jobs.  “Well, just one thing,” said Jobs. “Nike makes some of the best products in the world. Products that you lust after. But you also make a lot of crap. Just get rid of the crappy stuff and focus on the good stuff.” Parker said Jobs paused and Parker filled the quiet with a chuckle. But Jobs didn’t laugh.  He was serious. “He was absolutely right,” said Parker. “We had to edit.”

Say “no” more often than “yes.”

A May 16, 2011 Forbes* article goes on to elaborate. Parker used the word ‘edit’ not in a design sense but in the context of making business decisions. Editing also leads to great product designs and effective communications. According to Steve Jobs, “People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully. I’m actually as proud of the things we haven’t done as the things I have done. Innovation is saying ‘no’ to 1,000 things.”

In product design, business strategy, and yes, communications and presentations, subtraction often adds value. In October 2008, Apple introduced its next-generation MacBook laptop computer. Apple design guru, Jonathan Ive, told the audience that Apple’s new “aluminum unibody enclosure” eliminated 60 percent of the computer’s major structural parts. Reducing the number of parts naturally made the computer thinner. Contrary to what you’d expect, eliminating parts also made it more rigid and robust — the computer was stronger. According to Ive, “We are absolutely consumed by trying to develop a solution that is very simple, because as physical beings we understand clarity.”

Since the book came out [The Innovation Secrets of Steve Jobs] I often get the question, “Can anyone innovate like Apple?” The simple answer: While anyone can learn the principles that drive Apple’s innovation, few businesses have the courage to do so. It takes courage to reduce the number of products a company offers from 350 to 10, as Jobs did in 1998. It takes courage to remove a keyboard from the face of a smartphone and replace those buttons with a giant screen, as Jobs did with the iPhone. It takes courage to eliminate code from an operating system to make it more stable and reliable, as Apple did with Snow Leopard. It takes courage to feature just one product on the home page of a Web site as Apple does with each new major product launch. It takes courage to make a product like the iPad that is so simple a child can use it. And it takes courage to eliminate all of the words on a PowerPoint slide except one, as Steve Jobs often does in a presentation.

Aviator Antoine de Saint-Exupéry could have been summing up the Apple philosophy when he said, “A designer knows he has achieved perfection not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.” Your customers demand simplicity and simplicity requires that you eliminate anything that clutters the user experience — whether it be in product design, Web site navigation, marketing and advertising materials and presentation slides. Say “no” more often than “yes.” Oh, and get rid of the crappy stuff.

The Business of Branding

This is where branding and business mix—at the point of product and service offerings. It is also where design and branding part ways. Designers will design—make things nice to look at or use. They don't always consider the business strategy. Some do, but not most. Branding is not always about the design although some design agencies think it't the same thing. Branding goes deeper, to the core of who you are and what you offer. To be a success, it's important to get it all right, not just the elements of the visual identity.

* Forbes, May 16, 2011, Steve Jobs: Get Rid of the Crappy Stuff, by Carmine Gallo

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