2007 Trends : Simply Complex


One of the most over-speculated and questionable trends today must be the concept of simplicity. You can't miss a trends report or prediction without it popping up. Arguably, our current...

Piers Fawkes, PSFK
  • 9 january 2007

One of the most over-speculated and questionable trends today must be the concept of simplicity. You can’t miss a trends report or prediction without it popping up. Arguably, our current fascination with simplicity was born our of the launch of the iconic and sleek iPod and then reinforced by the arrival of products and brands like the American Apparel, Uniqlo, the RAZR and even Tivo.

Yes, PSFK will hold our hand up and say that we’ve tagged our product and service reports ‘simplicity’. But trends change and in review, it might be because of the fact that many of these products and services are far from simple that they have become so popular and that the trend is Simply-Complex not simplicity itself.

A few months ago Don Norman published a thought-provoking article on his site called ‘Simplicity Is Highly Overrated‘. The article suggested that simplicity was a fantasy and that we actually long for complexity to engage us. He said"

"Why do we deliberately build things that confuse the people who use them? Answer: Because the people want the features. Because simplicity is a myth whose time has past, if it ever existed.Make
it simple and people won’t buy. Given a choice, they will take the item
that does more. Features win over simplicity, even when people realize
that it is accompanied by more complexity. You do it too, I bet.
Haven’t you ever compared two products side by side, comparing the
features of each, preferring the one that did more?"

So, maybe the first thing we look for in a product is something that is accessible rather than totally simplistic, then we look for detail and complexity.

Think of a way that a video game gets you involved in a game: often it takes you through a number of levels to train you. The first level is rather simple and often helps you understand a basic game play such as movement. As the levels increase, the more you learn. By the end of the training levels you’re pretty sophisticated in terms of games play and ready for the proper game. If the game only required simplicity – i.e. the need to only have the skills to complete the first level – we’d all get rather bored of it rather fast.

Software has the same approach. It’s very easy to start some programs, but it’s what we learn to do with the product later that keeps us interested. Updates are essential in retaining our attention.

In fact, the iPod and American Apparel appear to be very simple but are highly complex at the same time. On one level they just offer this easy to use music player and colorful tees, but on another level they are detailed and changing. The popularity of the iPod may not be only to do with it’s simple interface – that really just grants access. The popularity could be due to the complexity of functions which we learn to use over time: the synchronization with iTunes, buying new music, subscribing to podcasts and connecting it to your sneakers. After a while, our little white box is quite a provider of entertainment and even exercise. We get quite used to the versatility so that when we see very complex products like this one, we seem to think we can learn to use them.

American Apparel is simply-complex. AA have a deep social and ecological mission behind it and the more you go into the stores the more you get to know it. At first, you go to the store because you can find that top or bottom that’s the perfect color but as you use the changing room, you start to get involved in the American Apparel story. Your shopping experience will make you pass photos of social issues such as arrest-photos of women arrested in California in the 60s or a photo-montage of clothing labels from around the world. On your way to the counter you pass TV screens with founder Dov Charney on business shows and when you get to the counter, you find a Mexican newspaper you could pick up (if you can read Spanish).

Online, there have been several services that have been praised because incorrectly for their simplicity. YouTube is not about simplicity. Flickr is not about
Simplicity. These sites are very simple to access but their success
relies on the deep complex levels you can go to in order to customize
your experience: channels, sets, groups, widgets, friends and so on.

It’s worth reading Jack Cheng’s words here when he looks at the simple-complex factors at work behind the success of Amazon. Also watch these two creatives talk here about ‘good design’ becoming more prevalent in 2007. Are they really saying stuff that makes us want to use it day after day after day?

No doubt 2007 will see simplicity used as a buzz word but it may be hiding the simple complexity of the products its being used to sell. 2007 will see a continued trend towards products that boast simplicity but do more than one thing, that
multi-task. Beauty products have to moisturize and sparkle, soda drinks will refresh and thin you and any other simply-complex products.


Turn Any Wearable Into A Mental Health Tracker

Fitness / Sport
Work Yesterday

Amazon Is Experimenting With A 30-Hour Work Week

The online retailer is launching a pilot program that will allow a technical team to work with a considerably shortened schedule

Fitness / Sport Yesterday

How The Rio Olympics Stood For More Than Just Games

PSFK rounds out the Rio Games with our picks for the finest moments beyond sports


Get PSFK's Latest Report: Future of Work

See All
Retail Yesterday

Mobile Travel App Embraces Cognitive Computing

The Orlando Tourism Board is looking to IBM Watson to provide personalized local recommendations for visitors

Automotive Yesterday

Bike-Friendly Apartment Building For Swedish Cyclists

A residential space is being designed for commuters to easily transport goods

Advertising Yesterday

Nike Takes Over An Entire City Block With A Giant Running Track

The Unlimited Stadium is shaped like a 100-meter sole print of the brand's LunarEpic sneaker

Gaming Yesterday

Fortune Cookie Service Brings Bad News To Your Doorstep

To promote their new delivery service Blackbox, the creators of Cards Against Humanity are delivering unfortunate messages in an edible form


Future Of Work
Cultivating The Next Generation Of Leaders

PSFK Op-Ed august 23, 2016

Modern Workplace Culture: No More Fat Cats Or Kissing Ass

Samar Birwadker, CEO & Co-Founder of Good & Co, on designing shared organizational values to optimize employee happiness and success

PSFK Labs Yesterday

New Mentorship Ecosystems Benefit All Levels Of An Organization

PSFK’s Future of Work report explores how technology is being leveraged to support cross-team communication

Arts & Culture Yesterday

This Picture Frame Could Be The Lava Lamp For A New Generation

Slow Dance makes real objects appear to move in slow motion

Work Yesterday

Editorial Roundtable: How Will Companies Staff The Workplace Of The Future?

Managed By Q, Soma, Workbar, Primary, AltSchool and thinkPARALLAX examine the ways that a people-first workplace might disrupt the job hiring process

Arts & Culture Yesterday

Airport Mural Puts Passengers In The Clouds

The installation in an Amsterdam terminal lets travelers float through a series of billowing 3D digital shapes

Automotive Yesterday

DevBot Is An Intelligent, Driverless, Electric Car

The unmanned test vehicle from RoboRace is a preview of upcoming AI race models

Augmented / Virtual Reality Yesterday

AR Ski Goggles Make Racing Down The Slopes Even More Immersive

Israeli startup RideOn weaves digital overlays into the thrill of skiing with an unconventional pair of protective eyewear


Rio Olympics
Innovation Coverage From The Rio Games

Advertising Yesterday

Japan Wants To Make 2020 Olympic Medals From Recycled Electronic Waste

The Tokyo Games could showcase the first-ever gold, silver and bronze awards made from discarded phones and computers

Culture Yesterday

This Small Town Has Become A Hide-and-Seek World Championship Destination

An old abandoned village in Northern Italy has become a massive playground for over one hundred competitive players

Design Yesterday

Garmin’s New Smartwatch Is Challenging The Luxury Market

The brand adds a premium version of its popular multi-sport trainer to its accessories collection

No search results found.