Liveblog: Nick Law on the need for Deep Simplicity in marketing and design

We're surrounded by complexity, and we crave simplicity. But shallow simplicity satisfies nobody. You need to understand the complexity to deliver products and services with deep simplicity, says Nick Law.

Warning: Live-blogging. Prone to error, inaccuracy and howling crimes against grammar and syntax. This post will be updated over the next few days.

Watch Nick Law at NEXT22 on-demand

Deep Simplicity: two words, both equally important.

Accenture Song has put out a statement that they’re about growth through relevance. Growth is inherently a creative act. But you only grow if you are relevant. If relevance is essential, keeping up with relevance is even more important because it keeps changing.

We also talk a lot about life-centricity, but they’re rooted in technology and software. The internet has changed all these relationships. Product-centricity has been very effective for businesses. It allows you to build a market. But it was most relevant before the internet. Customer-centricity is not at the expense of the product — but we can now see how customers choose a product, and how they choose to use it. However, it’s very hard to separate us buying products and services from everything else around that. And the tiny parts of our life that were still completely analogue got enmeshed with the internet during the pandemic.

Products in an interconnected world

People relate to products through this crazy, interconnected world in which we live. Products are jammed together with news and weather and personal messages. Our lives have accreted complexity since the internet — which is ironic because it was meant to do the reverse. The internet both promises us better use of our time, but also presents us with more information than we can consume. The infinite scroll can be a source of deep anxiety.

Facebook went from a text medium to a photo medium, and then video. It all gets layered on top of each other. It all brings complexity – and quantity. If you think there’s a lot of content now, think about what the AI image systems will unleash. The gap between thinking about something and actually making it has collapsed down to a little entry field.

There are more things to be designed out there than there are good designers. He often goes to Fire Island off New York, and the app to get there is so badly designed. It must have been designed by the ferry captain’s cousin… To go to Australia, he had to put the same information into four different apps, none of which worked properly.

Marketing is misdesigned

The shape of marketing and design was not designed to simplify the middle. We separated media and creatives in the late 80s, so we have great design craft that doesn’t understand media, and we have people who can measure things through performance, but have no craft or focus on humanity. They both look at the other, and see their failures – and they’re both right.

They need understanding to rebuild the middle between them. Simplicity gives weight to your decisions. The best brands have known this for a while — but some of them have forgotten. Apple has not been built by a metaphorical advert. The only brand advert they did was Think Different — but that was only the company treading water when Steve Jobs came back, and discovered the products were shit: beige boxes that kept crashing. They rebuild the company from the iMac onwards, rebuilding the middle.

People don’t go to YouTube and look for adverts. They look for comparisons, information, and explanations. Off-site research and on-site buying are connected.

Process for deep simplicity

Nick started thinking about this in 2005, when he saw the complexity curve start to emerge. He was working on Nike+, and they had great people across the team. And they had a piece of hardware: a puck you put into your shoes that interfaced with your iPod to track your running. The team enjoyed understanding the complexity so much, that they ended up transferring some of that complexity to the user. The interface was complicated, but none of the team could see it because they were too expert.

If you have time and too much knowledge, you can end up manifesting complexity in the product. The antidote? Start making decisions about what to sacrifice. You have to pass through the complexity to get to the simplicity, rather than getting trapped there. Shallow simplicity is finding a tweet and using it to sum up an industry. Deep simplicity is design that emerges from understanding and moving through complexity.

Core creative capabilities

You need to be good at stories and systems. Systems are about design and understanding interconnectedness. Storytelling is about the revealed moment, the simple pitch. Creatives tend to be good at one or the other of these. You need a system to meld both. Our brain is (roughly) split into temporal processing units and special processing units. The action is in the point between them, the corpus callosum. Find that connection in your teams. Complexity is additive, narrative is subtractive. You need both. We need an industry that embraces both. We can’t live in our own tribes, but have to work together.

And that’s the path to deep simplicity.

Nick joined in February 2022 as Global Lead for Design and Creative Tech at Accenture Song. He is one of the world’s most progressive and versatile creative leaders, who believes design is a foundational creative discipline that shapes how we interact with the world – and how we change it for the better.