The value of simplicity


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We have 3 different types of food blenders in our house. They are pictured below. I’ve tried to show them roughly to scale with one another.

blenders

The first is a “traditional” blender with a base, a large 56 oz. (1.75 L) pitcher-style container and several speed settings for the blades.

The second is an immersion blender with a number of attachments for mixing, blending, chopping etc.

The third is known as the Magic Bullet blender. It has a small 16 oz.  (.45 L)  container for the contents being blended and a simple on/off mechanism for the blades.

While they all have benefits and are clearly different, guess which one gets the most use in our household? Given the title of this post, it should be pretty obvious.

Yes, it’s blender #3, the Magic Bullet. And why?

Simplicity in all aspects of usage. Most blending jobs are very simple quick tasks. e.g. making a smoothie, or blending some sauce or something similar. The usage scenario goes something like this:

  1. Place the contents to be blended into the blending  container
  2. Blend for 10-15 seconds (maybe 20 seconds in extreme cases)
  3. Pour the contents out of the container

There’s not much more than that. In *most* cases, the amounts are small (< 16 oz) so I don’t need the large blender which is both heavy and a bit of pain to clean. Also the immersion blender is pretty good for a lot of tasks, but I find it inefficient unless I truly have to immerse it into a pot or other container for “in place” blending.

In short, for the majority of my blending tasks, the Magic Bullet addresses the needs well. There is a lesson here for software and technology PMs, and I think you know what that is:

A simple solution that addresses a use case well is likely to be used often by your target audience.

Of course, most technology products do a lot more than a blender, but that doesn’t mean they have to be complex to use.

Saeed

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11 responses to “The value of simplicity

  1. David Locke

    Physiologist have found that walking is a matter of stopping ourselves from falling down. It does not require a brain. The brain is necessary only because we do more than walk. We run. We dance. We skip. We hop. We kick. Oh, the feature bloat.

    Still, the brain decides and the spinal column does. Our kinetic memory knows quite a bit. The brain is hardly involved, but it is involved.

    There is the simple simple, and the complex simple. It’s the model-view-controller pattern. Magic is more a matter of providing the view, the simple, that hides the model, the complexity. That magic is the job!

  2. Simplicity is at the root of getting to a large customer base.
    Simple product make it
    – Easier to buy. A customer can actually understand what they will be paying for, and the price is usually compelling.
    – Easier to use. Self starting (no training, manual, etc…), minutes to value is key.
    – Easier to support. Whether though self service or low touch support cycles.
    This means a company can now offer a compelling solution to more customers at the right price point.
    Your Magic Bullet while not a silver bullet, is a good example.

  3. Passionate PM

    Hey Saeed,
    This is really a nice post. Like it.

    Just wanted to add this note:
    There can be a simple solution to address a use case, but the real pain point while trying to achieve simplicity emerges when the same product is expected to satisfy a lot of use cases.

    Any thoughts on this one?
    Would love to hear from you.

    Regards,
    Passionate PM

    • I guess it depends on the additional use cases that are expected to be addressed.

      Eventually something has to give. For example, the Swiss Army Knife, is a great knife and a pretty decent corkscrew and mediocre at most everything else after that.

      The same is true for virtually all multi-function devices, including electronics. Software tends to get bloated and hard to use because it is “soft” and can be molded into many things so that what was once a specialized tool for one purpose becomes a general tool for many purposes. Jack of all trades, master of none.

      Someone — a business minded Product Manager being one such person — needs to ensure that what is built is what the market needs and will pay for. If people want a separate fork, knife and spoon, having all of them in a Swiss Army Knife won’t do, even it is a convenient way to deliver the “functionality” to them.

  4. Pingback: How the Blender illustrates “designing the product” vs. “designing the whole product experience” | The Experience is the Product | Better product management and products

  5. Good post.

    So how come you’ve bought all 3 for your house and what was the thought process as you kept buying blenders for different tasks 😉

    I think some of it is realization that comes over time and SaaS products/vendors are in a great position to quickly identify (through realtime usage data) what their simpler and most used products/features are and model most of their products after those patterns.

    • How did we get 3 units? Simple. First we got the big blender as it was what we thought we needed. Then the immersion blender came as it was on sale and it clearly filled a gap that the full blender couldn’t fill. And then we bought the Magic Bullet because we found the big blender too big and bulky for regular use.

      I’m sure we are not alone in this kind of thinking I bet there are many 3 blender families out there. 🙂

  6. The Magic Bullet is my favourite infomercial of all-time! However, because it is an infomercial I haven’t broken down and bought a Magic Bullet. Kudos to you for seeing past the lame (awesome!?!) advertising and acquiring quite obviously an awesome product. 🙂

    Stewart

    • Stewart,

      This is probably the first “infomercial” product we’ve ever bought. But we bought it at Canadian Tire, not over the phone. Had to actually see the product and package in person. 🙂

      The product is not without it’s short comings. The main one is that I’d like a slightly large container (say 24 oz.) but other than that, it functions as advertised. Time will tell if the motor is a good one. If it burns out after a year or so, well, that will say a lot.

    • BTW, why is that your favourite infomercial?

  7. No idea. I suspect it is a combination of the product, the food it creates and the “actors”. For some reason, I am completely engaged by that infomercial.