The Complexity Of Simple

The Complexity Of Simple

You’ve heard it a million times: Keep it simple. But few understand the effort that goes into simplicity. Oftentimes, people look at simple as the beginning, but in reality, simple is the end.

Take, for example, this quote from Antoine de Saint-Exupéry: “A designer knows he has achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.” Looking beyond the misogynistic language of the early century, this philosophy gets to the essence of simplicity, and how to achieve it.

Simplicity is a journey.

As we’ve evolved, the path to simplicity has become saturated. We are adorners, and create confusion with add-ons. We build layers on simplicity and fail to expose the essence of the idea. And finding essence is not something you stumble upon — it’s a journey.

Achieving simplicity is difficult. But if you are determined to make it simple, there can be no other path. For many, simplicity is the villain of the process and the hero of the execution. But understanding the journey can get you on the right path.

Here are 5 insights to get you on your way.

1. Simple requires work. 

Sometimes a simple expression is wrongly correlated with the lack of effort. In fact, the most gorgeous things in the world are born of the simplest elements. It’s about harmony and awareness. It’s doing a lot, only to express a little. It’s why a Rothko painting — even though apparently just one color — is so incredibly moving. It forces you to understand the process to appreciate the beauty. Or as Frédéric Chopin put it, “…simplicity emerges as the crowning reward of art.”

2. Simple is a fight.

The fact that we covet simplicity speaks volumes to the world we live in. We are not simple beings. We have complex brains. We are all beasts of excess. There are parking signs on top of parking signs, overly detailed product manuals and bloated remote controls. For us to achieve simple, we must fight our own excess. And we must prepare to go 12 rounds with ourselves.

3. Simple is ruthless.

Get ready to take off the gloves. Simplicity is unforgiving and uncaring. It respects labor, blood, sweat, and tears by wanting more. It wants worn-down fingers and bloodshot eyes. It wants your soul. That’s what simplification is about. It’s not artifacts or flourishes. It’s giving your creation purpose. If it can artfully survive in it’s least decorated form, simplicity has been achieved.

4. Simple is science.

Occam’s Razor states that the explanation with the fewest assumptions should be selected. If an element is inessential, it is meaningless. But knowing what to remove and what to keep takes work. And often work on top of work. It’s distillation. It’s concentrated. It’s about iteration, collaboration. Ask yourself: Is there more to refine? Does it feel right? Each step should not be about proving yourself right, but trying to prove yourself wrong. When you feel finished, take a break, and enlist other opinions. Then improve more. Simplicity has no ego, and neither should you.

5. Simple is natural.

David Bernoulli, a Swiss mathematician, said, “Nature always tends to act in the simplest way.” Our ideas should follow the same path. Simplified creations exist without the need for explanation. They feel natural. They belong. And when people feel joy from seeing your work, or interacting with your creation, that is the reward.

So the next time you have the opportunity to refine an idea, don’t try to add, try to subtract. Because the hardest thing we will ever do, is make something simple. That’s why so very few achieve this complex feat.

The Social Media Playbook

If You Automate, People Will Player Hate

Social media isn’t easy for brands. And I’m not talking about the practical application of making content, posting content, replying, calendaring and all the details that go into your playbook.

Instead, let’s look at it in the abstract. Even harder than that combination of legwork, grunt-work, strategic work and creativity, the lack of control is what makes these platforms so challenging for brands. They move quickly, and it’s hard to circle around an idea when the clock is ticking. 

With everything, giving up control comes with the assumption of risk. And when you aren’t smart about mitigating that risk, a wrong move puts you in damage control. Trolls can easily pick up your fumble and run it back. 
Some brands don’t take things seriously enough. And when that happens, they get sacked. Today, we will look at two sports teams who have made bad calls that have cost them the game.

Robots Aren’t Always Good Teammates

In 2014, The Patriots became the first NFL team to hit one million followers. Strategically, they did a great job of honoring their fans, rather than themselves to hitting that milestone. The Patriots realized that and were rewarding fans who retweeted them, with a jersey personalized to their Twitter handle. Sounds great huh? 

Oh, then, this:

As rewarding as it was to the many who enjoyed the personalization, it only took one person to take a whole team down. Using a filter, or even having someone with a heartbeat overseeing this would have prevented such an offensive tweet. And, unlike the Pats on the field, they didn’t keep their eye on the social media clock, as the tweet was in play for an hour before they took action. Trolls 1- Pats-0

The Playbook Is There For A Reason.

Earlier this month, five years after the wildly publicized and highly indexed Patriots fiasco, Adidas took a page from the Pat’s playbook and created an automated and custom campaign, with, wait for it, the same harrowing results. 

Adidas created a new soccer Jersey for Arsenal. To publicize that effort, Twitter users who liked one of the brand’s tweets would get an automated reply, with a request to buy an Arsenal jersey with their Twitter handle on the back. The replies were sent from Adidas U.K.’s account and showed an automated image of the jersey. 

So if you were following the official Adidas account last week, you saw tweets to handles like @InnocentHitler. 

It read: “This is home. Welcome to the squad. Now it’s time to seal the deal – order your new home shirt here. #DareToCreate”

And there were others, even more, explicitly racist or just plain evil, referencing missing children or the Hillsborough disaster in 1989 where 96 fans died. Further, this seemed like the kickoff to the campaign, as their official Twitter account is still tweeting about the jerseys. Expensive video content and other pieces that were in their rollout plan were seemingly not scrapped. And the people who were offended are now trolling them for being so clueless, reposting the offensive tweets with “let’s talk about this Adidas.” As long as that campaign is alive, so will the blowback. And it will probably last forever. Think of them as them both as the Bill Buckner of Social media. 

Advice for brands.

There are many more examples like the two above. What stands out most is how the same misstep can be repeated so effortlessly. How people who don’t participate in the platforms or truly understand the industry can recreate the failures of the past. 

Pretending the dark side of twitter does not exist, or allowing automation without oversight are two ways these brands could have saved this campaign. Or even a quick Google search could have done the trick.

When I oversaw social creative for Honda, our client and team were vigilant about not having this happen to us. When we did offer some sort of customization, we not only looked at the handles but also vetted the profiles to make sure there was nothing of offense. It took more sweat equity than a simple bot and was much slower, but thankfully, we always knew when we responded, who it was we were responding to. 

So when you are planning your next social media high point, to mark an achievement or honor fans, don’t leave it to a robot. Be smart, be vigilant and mitigate risk. Because losing on social media hurts more than losing on the field.