Innovation: Keep It Simple and … Sexy!

As Jeffrey Baumgartner reminded us in an article called Keep Innovation Simple, Sweetheart in 2005, “one of the underlying maxims of engineering is that of KISS, an acronym for Keep It Simple, Stupid“. I would like to rename it Keep It Simple and Sexy, as the Sexy part has become all the more important now that we build emotional relationship with our products through sensual interfaces, as Apple shows us product after product.

There are many reasons to make innovation feel simple to customers: one is that  innovation is the sum of ” invention + competitive value + adoption“, and that adoption requires great customer experience and user friendliness.

This requirement is even stronger in a competitive market, where competitors come from every part of the world and from adjacent industries, with alleviated constraints making them very agile.

Simplicity is also necessary to avoid the feeling of “Yet Another App” fatigue, and engage very quickly the customer in the relationship with the product or service.

Jeffrey Philipps believes “customer experience innovation is one of the most compelling opportunities in 2011” (why customer experience innovation matters new, 2010 Dec.). It is effective in a lowered consumer spending market, it is as well a way to make innovation less risky, in a sense that great customer experience reduces the risk of innovation failure .

Simpler products are also just easier to produce, distribute, market, and sell, not to mention customer care!

To make simplicity prevail in customer experience, here are some guidelines blending personal innovation experience with academic review:

  1. What is the challenge?
    Some innovation are designed to solve a problem, or address an opportunity that we happen to forget in the way we develop the new product; customers often do not want the product itself, but rather the effect that the product produces: define the effect you’re looking for. Coming back to the real problem, and the main challenge the innovation has to face, is a way to keep your innovation simple.
  2. What is your belief?
    We’ve talked about the importance of belief as a framework for creativity: “customers don’t by what you do, they buy what you believe”. Guy Kawasaki called it your Mantra, a mission statement that is defined in 3 words; belief and metaphor are founding elements to build your product identity and help you seperate the core from the accessories.
  3. What is your unique selling proposition?
    Don’t hide behind nifty gadgets or tools. Select one thing, make it work so well that you get the WAOUH effect; avoid marketing approaches which tend to add more and more features to address separate segments and are actually looking for qualified reassurance: stick to your belief. Thinking USP is also a way to build spreadibility, to embody the story, a simple but attractive story people are going to propagate about your innovation.
  4. Have you iterated enough?
    To reach your USP, you need to iterate between “think and do” in short cycles, practice fast prototyping and user testing on limited functional scope, increment your features based on user feedbacks, and test again until features are immediately captured by their users: present your innovation in bits and pieces to facilitate adoption, explain them separately, while at the same time finding ways to tie them in with each other.  Prototype failures are no issue: “fail often, fail early, fail cheap” is the rapid prototyping credo, as well as  “don’t fail fast , learn fast.
  5. Are you focusing your innovation?
    Designing in short cycles brings you customer feedback and feasibility assessment which help you select among the many things created, and eliminate a lot of ideas; innovation process needs to be managed with a view and converge progressiveley: creative tension is the framework to leave “chaos for order”,  as product finds its identity; focus, polarize people, “get rid of the crap”, transfer simple, elegant concepts, in simple, elegant realizations; again, don’t forget that customers often do not want the product itself, but rather the effect that the product produces.
  6. Aren’t you looking for perfection?
    “Don’t worry, be crappy, perfection is the enemy of revenue”says Kawasaki. In French, we say “the best is the enemy of the good”. “Enough is good for you” says Muji’s philosophy (Blogging Innovation » Is ‘Enough’ the new ‘Best’?): “they create products with a view toward global consumption of the future, and would like their customers to think that they don’t need the best but this “this is enough.” The “Best” becomes “enough” by “cultivating skills for highly practical products and good taste for simplicity”.
  7. What is the risk scenario of doing / not doing that part?
    Natural trend is to increase the number of features: this is all the more true that we are closer to the market launch and that we fear competition. Adding one feature at late stage may jeopardize your entire launch schedule, don’t misjudge it! One way to get rid of last minute features is to evaluate scenario consisting of delaying the entire launch because of late achievement of bespoke feature: are we really ready for this? Reversely, one can evaluate the impact on market forecast of not completing a feature: if evaluation appears fuzzy, one might think that the feature is not so useful.
  8. Is your leadership platform comprehensive?
    Simplifying the product is not enough, you have to encompass the customer experience at the various touch points he has with your company, and make his interactions fluent and rewarding. This will not only impact the training of your sales forces and of your customer support; it is likely to involve your back-end with the following questions: how can your make your operations simpler, how can you streamline your supply chain?
  9. Is your innovation capitalizing on strategic strength?
    Jeffrey Philipps suspect some innovators to be “off the reservation”, chasing ideas that don’t align to corporate strategies. In the case your innovation is aligned with your company strategy, one way to draw on simplification is to come back to strategic asset: what is the strength you can capitalize on, the worst entry barrier for competitors, that you can transfer into your innovation?
  10. Is your innovation making cocreation simple?
    Nowadays customer  is often invited to co-create the service, the innovator  uses this additional knowledge to design or refine  outputs from the service. With App Store and Market places, we open the door to cocreation where the value of our innovation will be constantly enhanced by third-party creativity. Cocreators will make your product more sexy and fizzing innovation : development have to be made simple for them as well.

Are we going to design a new Bauhaus type of innovation, where simplicity might sometime flirt with coldness and distance? Famous designer Idris Mootee adresses this : “The sheer simplicity of design is not boring; it carries some novelty ideas and there is a sense of design in everything”.

Leonard de Vinci, one innovator that could certainly not be accused of leaving you cold, has the ultimate words: “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication“.



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