Wanting Less: The Simplicity Trend

by MAi Research November 20, 2019

When we think of innovation we often think of more buttons, more features, and greater complexity. But things don’t have to be bigger and flashier to be innovative; innovation can mean making things simpler, too. In fact, we’re sitting at a cultural moment that leans toward the simple. In everything from clothing to housing to the food we eat, the trend is toward making things less complex.

Simpler Technology

It’s a trend that’s been growing for some time now. When the sleekly designed iPhone first emerged on the market it was competing against the BlackBerry which was covered in buttons. The iPhone, with a single button that almost disappeared into its case, was a true game changer. Users quickly learn how to navigate the phone without all those complicated buttons, and now they expect simplicity at the swipe of a finger.

One place you can see the swing toward simplicity is in remote controls.  Devices like Amazon’s Fire TV and Roku don’t use big remotes with lots of buttons. Instead, they have small devices that fit in the palm of your hand and have only a few buttons with a mic for voice-controlled searches.  And if you want to declutter even more, these physical remotes can be put away. Just use the App version of these remotes on your smart phone. By pressing a button on the screen of your device it turns on the unit as well as the television. The simplicity of the interface doesn’t stop both from delivering amazing content to millions of homes.

In the gaming world, the Steam Controller is an example of simplicity over complexity. It has just a few buttons that suggest an easy, almost natural use. This minimalist approach really appeals to modern users. Which was also part of the success for the Wii console that was on another level at the time. The Wii Remote made a revolution in the gaming industry with its one-handed remote control-based design that sold over 100 million joysticks.

Meals & “Makeunders”

Even food has gotten a make-under with gurus like Michael Pollan sparking a push toward simpler ingredients for culinary creations. People are trying to use whole ingredients to make nutritious meals that aren’t too complicated. There are companies that are simplifying our food and making it more sustainable by the way food is grown and distributed. Blue Apron is partnering with farmers and creating a distribution system that is ultimately leading to better outcomes for our environment.

A fashion idea that teaches people how to pick simple, neutral pieces that can be rearranged into different combinations is called a “capsule wardrobe.” This allows for an easier morning routine and a less cluttered closet. This concept surged in popularity over the past few years as people look for chances to make their lives a little easier.  There are websites devoted to this idea and they will assemble a wardrobe for you. A company called Stitch Fix helps curate just what you need by filling out a survey of what you like to wear.

Another area where we’ve seen the trend toward simplicity take hold is in the “tiny house” movement where people seek out small, simple spaces instead of the lavish, big, complicated houses that had been the marker of success. By living in entire houses, the size of a typical living room in some of the sprawling houses of suburbia, people find it necessary to make their lives simpler. And because of their low energy demands and often roof-mounted solar panels these adopters are threatening increased grid defection. Especially with the continuously decreasing price of solar panels and batteries, they’re becoming commercially proven alternative off-grid housing.

Downsizing Innovation

As our trends move from complex to simple, it makes sense that product innovation would follow. Today’s consumers are looking for quality products with a clear, meaningful, and intentional purpose. Innovation in the 21st century increasingly doesn’t look like the innovation of the past. We’ve experienced decades, even centuries, of making things more complicated, and it seems that the tide is turning. Simplifying with intention and quality in mind is increasingly the best way to create a product that will matter to today’s consumers.