Keep It Simple for Happy Customers

The person who best expresses the benefits of simple tools is William Gibson, in his novel “All Tomorrow’s Parties.”

Here’s what he said:

“The handles of a craftsman’s tools bespeak an absolute simplicity, the plainest forms affording the greatest range of possibilities for the user’s hand.

“That which is overdesigned, too highly specific, anticipates outcome; the anticipation of outcome guarantees, if not failure, the absence of grace.”

He was talking about a knife, one of the simplest of all tools. But he could just as well have been talking about a pencil. A pencil also bespeaks “an absolute simplicity.”

I remember back in my early ad agency days, before any kind of desktop publishing software was available, watching Peter Smitherman wield a pencil. Peter was a seasoned art director, and I was his young copywriter. Watching him work with a pencil was a privilege. He could draw a face or a landscape with equal ease. He could design an ad with a few rough strokes, and you’d see exactly how it should turn out in its final form. And he could do it fast. No restraints, no templates, no wizards. Just one hand, a pencil, and a broad expanse of white paper.

That pencil and paper afforded “the greatest range of possibilities.” As each layer of graphite was laid across the surface of the paper beneath it, it followed a unique path, never before anticipated or seen.

Then came desktop publishing software.

Design software always “anticipates outcome” to some degree because it allows the user to work only within predetermined boundaries. The possibilities are confined within the vision of the software designers. Having millions of colors to choose from doesn’t help. Nor does a menu of 200 typefaces. In fact, as a tool, publishing software is hopelessly overdesigned.

What does this have to do with Internet marketing?

Well, online we also have to use tools with which to create our web sites and the experiences they afford. And on the web we just love to embrace every new high-tech tool that comes our way. Cool toys. Great software. Animate it. Make it rich. Make it stream.

The trouble is, the more overdesigned the tool, the easier it is to anticipate the outcome. Admit it, once you’ve seen the first second of a Flash intro, you know exactly how it will proceed. Moving text, converging graphics, etc. The only pleasure to be had is in seeing how quickly you can find the Skip Intro link.

And as William Gibson says, ” …the anticipation of outcome guarantees, if not failure, the absence of grace.”

Sure does. The web is littered with absence of grace.

Is this a plea for the use of simple tools in the creation of web sites? Yes, it is. First, the simpler the tool the less restrictive it is and the better the chance of creating something truly unique. And second, your visitors will thank you if your site is not only unique, but is also simple.

Does this article have anything at all to do with permission marketing? Not really. But I’ve been dying to write it. However, if you really want a “permission deliverable,” consider this: A simpler, more creative site is more likely to help your customers achieve their goals.

And a happy customer is more likely to give you permission.

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