No Manual

No Manual

By Rich Karlgaard

Rich Karlgaard is a columnist, angel investor, board director, speaker, and publisher of Forbes. From The Soft Edge: Where Great Companies Find Lasting Success (Jossey-Bass). ©2014

When it comes to spending money, we all have a lot of choices in today’s marketplace. So a new product or service needs to make you feel smart. Which, more specifically, means it needs to be intuitive. It needs to be simple. And when I say simple, I don’t mean simplistic. Instead, I mean your new device or machine needs to be uncluttered and purposeful.

If it needs a manual, forget it. Many young people today wouldn’t even recognize a manual. If you give them a binder full of instructions, they’re likely to throw it away. Even Ikea’s two-page instructions are too much of a burden for most people, much less a whole book of coded directions. It may be a cultural thing that comes partly from an abundance of choice and partly from an expectation that well-designed, taste-driven products will be natural, instinctual, innate.

This means the hardware and the software, the communication, the customer service, the whole experience: It needs to make sense and be clear.

Simple, clean, clear—that should be easy, right? Well, no. It’s actually the opposite. Taking stuff out, limiting the buttons and features, keeping things off the package—those are the hard decisions.

One paradox, among many, about Steve Jobs is that while being famous for his love of form, he felt so strongly about function that he would ruthlessly eliminate all but the absolutely essential functions until he arrived at the purest expression of a product. “Steve said no far, far more than he said yes,” Tony Fadell revealed.

This attitude has carried over to Fadell’s own company, Nest Labs. Like many start-ups, it has extensive customer support and an active customer community. Through those touchpoints, it’s able to gain insights, such as its customers’ top ten issues. And, of course, its people take the time to go through these issues one by one and fix them—or say no. For example, some customers believed Nest should incorporate a weather indicator and a clock in its thermostat. Nest’s answer: “It’s a thermostat. We’re not doing it.”

Clearly, that’s a point-of-view, taste-driven issue. Even though Nest has feedback indicating that a set of users want those extra functions, it’s not doing it. “It’s very simple to use,” Fadell said. “So we had to say no to some customers who wanted additional features. We had to be very clear: We’re not going to screw up a simple, elegant experience for the rest of our customers.”

So, if you think about it, saying no in that case is very Apple-like. It also flies in the face of the traditional market-research, make-your-customer-happy-at-all-costs route. But the world is going the opposite way. Less is better. And sometimes to get less, you just have to say no.

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