“Make everything as simple as possible, but not simpler.”

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Essays

A great brand is like a great piece of writing. It’s a way of communicating an idea – an aspiration or secret, an insight or a fear – to an audience. It needs to be so obvious by the time it reaches the audience that all they can do is share it and copy it. 

Last weekend I flew to London with British Airways’s Ungrounded program. We were charged with a design challenge on the flight: to create products, programs, and processes to address STEM challenges around the world. The winning challenges were, really, the best ones. One, called InIt, was a simple “Nutrition Facts” stamp to go on any piece of hardware or software that shipped to a consumer, indicating how it was made, by whom, and where. Another, called AdvisHer, was a mentorship network for women to connect with others in STEM. The Sherpa was a travelling hotspot and some simple tools living in a backpack, enabling travelers to extend STEM to less connected parts of the world. All dead simple. And simple is hard to do well. All the greatest writers, from Twain and Kundera to Dostoevsky to Hemingway, speak of editing, and editing, and editing. 

My team’s idea, MagicBox, involved 3-D printing, Raspberry Pi, gamification, One Laptop Per Child rollout strategy, a new IDE, lots of arrows, and a cumbersome presentation. In retrospect, of course it lost. But the instinct to keep adding features, pieces of complexity, is deeply hard to avoid. Coco Chanel used to suggest, “before you head out the door every day, take one thing off.” As you put together your brand, and the product that manifests the brand, consider taking one thing off.

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