“A designer knows he has achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.” — Antoine de Saint-Exupery
We are all so busy.
Just look at the week ahead. There’s so much to do.
Last week, we promised that this week would be different. That we’d make a concentrated effort to keep our calendars open. And yet, here we are, running on a hamster wheel for 16 hours before collapsing into bed.
How does this keep happening?
Are We Really Busier Than Ever?
I grew up with the Internet. I grew up with hundreds of TV channels. I grew up with email and text messages and cell phones and cars and airplanes. I grew up in a world where it was normal for your boss to call you at 8PM and for your friends to publicly brag about their amazing lives by way of carefully curated, full-color photos.
I don’t know if in the past, the nostalgic simpler past we fondly idolize, that people ever felt less busy. But the data would seem to say no. On balance, we should feel less busy today than ever before. Our ancestors, young and old, were working longer hours and enjoying less leisure — a trend that’s been on the decline since we invented the wheel (source).
So why do we feel so damn busy?
There are several theories, but I am partial to the ironic claim that abundance — of time and opportunity — makes us feel pressured to cram more and more into our free time, which leaves us feeling as though there are never enough hours in a day.
In the past, when there were only three TV channels and a handful of shows, it was easy to stay current and still have time to read little Timmy a bedtime story. But now, we’re endlessly reminded how far we’ve fallen behind on Game of Thrones/Daredevil/Downton Abbey. How much we’re missing when we don’t respond “going” to every single Facebook invite. How pathetic it is that we can’t work a 50 hour job, run a profitable side business, and still have time to go to our kid’s play, like everyone else posting on social media.
It’s no wonder we feel like we’re going to be running on this hamster wheel forever.
More Isn’t Always More
When I have leisure time of my own, I like to fill it with reading. But I often think the books I read could be 100 pages shorter. The idea was good. The insights were transformative. But I got the point well before the author decided he was finished.
The unfortunate irony, though, is that longer books cost more money. Double albums are more expensive. Sprawling 100 hour open-world video games retail for $60 while more compact, guided experiences are torn apartwhen they try to ask for the same amount.
In a way, it makes sense. It costs more — in terms of time, money, and resources — to make something longer.
But “more features,” “longer,” or “bigger” doesn’t always mean that something is better.
Did we really need that 13th season of NCIS? Did we really need to split the Hobbit into three parts? Do we really need a 700 channel cable package? Does anyone actually need a toaster that tells you the weather?
How could we feel anything other than overwhelmed in a world where more is more?
Designing for Perfection
I respect products, media, companies, and people that respect my time.
I’d rather pay more for a book that expresses an idea in 100 pages over a similar title that does the same thing in 300 , because the shorter book gives me something back that’s more valuable than money.
It gives me back my time.
Sure, people complain that an iPhone is more expensive than a comparable Android, which has more features and options. But in this case, people are paying more to own a product that actually delivers on the promise of less is more. I don’t want to spend time endlessly customizing (or learning how), because I can use that time for other things. I’d rather someone hand me a beautiful phone that just works.
Certainly, there’s room for complex products — where would professional designers be without Photoshop — but for most of us, Instagram with its limited editing suite and filers, is more than enough.
As society continues to grow and evolve, as we have more and more ways to spend each and every minute, time and attention will become the limiting factors on what we consume, not money.
The winners in that world, then, aren’t going to be the creators who can produce the most expensive, feature loaded product, the longest book, or the most comprehensive online course. They’ll be the creators who can take a complex experience and reduce it to its simplest form, one that’s more focused and less sprawling.
They’ll be the creators who understand that, in the spirit of Antoine de Saint-Exupery, the question we should be asking isn’t, “what else can I add to this?” but rather, “what else can I take away?”