Innovation Month: The Importance Of Being Easy

It languishes now on Worst Cars of all Time lists, and there’s some dispute over whether it was even made. So the Horsey Horseless Automobile, brainchild of Michigan’s Uriah Smith in 1899, might seem a strange point to begin our Innovation Month on the Brian Juicer blog.


But behind the bizarre appearance of the Horsey Horseless lurks a very important point about innovation. The easier you make it, the better it works. Continue reading

“You Had Me At Hello”: Introducing Fluent Innovation

Earlier this week we gave a webinar on Fluent Innovation – an idea we’re using in our new product development work (our famous Predictive Markets tool, instance). The core of Fluent Innovation is very simple – great innovation isn’t just about having a good idea, it’s about making that idea acceptable. And the way you make an idea acceptable is by making it Fluent – familiar, easy to process… “surprisingly obvious”, you might say.

To explain this in the webinar, we told the story of the Bialetti Moka coffee pot, one of the great classics of 20th Century design, and beyond that a massive commercial success – when people say every Italian home has one, they may not be far off!


The Moka Pot. Innovative inside, familiar outside.

The Moka is a beautiful piece of engineering, but that isn’t the only place its genius lies. The Moka combines a brilliant idea and immediately appealing design in a way that’s a perfect example of Fluent Innovation. Continue reading

Surprising Fluency

In yesterday’s blog post I talked about a new study of scientific papers, which shows that hit papers – the ones with highest impact – score highly on both “conventionality” and “novelty”. In other words, the very new thrives best when it’s planted in extremely familiar soil.

This got me wondering – is this a rule beyond the world of academic publishing? What is the balance of familiarity and novelty you need to make a hit in other areas?

toy car

It reminded me of this interesting piece of work, “Gut Liking For The Ordinary” by Jan Landwehr, Aparna Labroo and Andreas Herrmann. They wanted to understand more about what made new car designs a success or failure. Continue reading

A Tale Of Two Simpli-Cities

One of our constant mantras at BrainJuicer is “Fun, Fast and Easy” – it’s our shorthand for how quick, instinctive “System 1” decisions should feel. Most decisions people make are taken quickly (“fast”), routing around difficulty (“easy”) and make the decider feel good about their choice (“fun”).

But of course there’s more to it than that. What happens, for instance, when two of these imperatives are in conflict? What happens when making a decision easier also makes it less fun?

Two news stories last week perfectly shed light on this fascinating issue. They both involve root-and-branch redesigns, and both redesigns put simplicity at their heart. One has been a roaring success, one a complete disaster.


The disaster first. The plunge in US retailer JC Penney’s fortunes under its ex-Apple chief executive Ron Johnson looks likely to become one of this decade’s touchstone studies in business catastrophe. Johnson was ousted on April 8th after a brief reign which had seen sales nosedive, with his signature “Everyday Low Prices” policy widely blamed. Continue reading

Search Wars

This is a picture of Google’s homepage, from April 1999.

It looks broadly similar to Google’s page now. Obviously Google is no longer in Beta, and these days you can log in and be confronted with a vast maze of products, but the core Search homepage is still very basic and uncluttered.

As is every other Search homepage. A Google challenger like DuckDuckGo sticks to the orthodoxy of box, logo and as little else as possible. DuckDuckGo goes further, actually, and doesn’t even say it’s a search engine: presumably it knows that visitors are coming because they’ve seen it mentioned as a David to the Googliath.

Of course, it wasn’t always this way. This is a picture of AltaVista, probably the leading Search Engine in 1999.

Not quite so pretty. But with problems that go beyond the visual clutter. As a surfer in 1999 you can do a lot of things on AltaVista: you can search, you can go to one of its channels, you can switch language, you can look in its lovingly compiled directory, you can see what its free net access deal is, you can even undertake a “POWER SEARCH” (whatever that is). And most of these tools come festooned with further options.

It is enormously confusing, fatally unintuitive. But also absolutely typical of the web at the time. In 1999, AltaVista was the orthodox way to do a site. This wasn’t “loss of focus” or “feature creep” – diagnoses only reached with hindsight. This was a powerful, efficient way of putting a page together, putting the greatest amount of usefulness into the smallest possible space. The new features, in fact, were a success – the BabelFish automatic translator drew the same gasps of futuristic awe Google Glasses or augmented reality apps might get now.

Looking at AltaVista makes you understand what a thunderbolt of clarity Google was, though. And for all the excellent rationalisations of Google’s success – its better algorithms, and so on – from a system 1 decision making perspective, looking at its design tells you everything.

System 1 decisions are emotional, implicit, often unconscious, and considerably easier to make than their more effortful system 2 counterparts. This is what Google’s design tapped into. Yes, the results were fast, and the results were good. But even before you got to the results, Google made the search decision and process fun, fast and easy – which is exactly the advice we give to any brand looking to influence someone’s decision. All other search engines made an implicit assumption that their users were considered decision makers who would appreciate being given a range of options to weigh up. Google threw that out of the window, and we are still living with the results.

Keep It Simple, Not Stupid

Every now and then someone says something on Twitter that makes you go, “Gosh, yes!”. An example was Joshua Porter, the user experience designer, who pointed out a week or so ago that:

“Simplicity is a cognitive property, not a physical one. That’s why less isn’t always simpler.”

This nails something very important. At the heart of the lessons we draw from the System 1/System 2 metaphor for human thought is the idea that System 1 decisions ought to be “fun, fast and easy”. If you expect people to make decisions that aren’t these things, they won’t thank you for it – and may well revert to a default anyway!

“DRINK ME”: Alice makes a fast, fun and easy decision.

It’s easy to equate visual and physical simplicity with easy, fast decisions. But it’s not always true. A cluttered environment might offend designers aesthetically, but it doesn’t necessarily stop people making fast and easy decisions – think of a supermarket, where hundreds of brands compete for attention but people still make very rapid, ‘system 1’ decisions by simply bypassing most of the excess information.

In his tweet, Porter was referencing this fine piece, “What Does It Mean To Be Simple?“, by Daniel Ritzenthaler, which points out that simplicity means ‘more clarity’, not necessarily less of anything. Ritzenthaler talks about the process in terms of giving people the minimum information they need to make a clear, fast, binary decision. Go below that minimum – for the sake of perceived simplicity – and you have the opposite effect: you make the decision tougher. Your biggest allies in creating fast, easy decisions aren’t the eraser and the delete button, they’re habit and intuition.

Of course, you do still need to work out what that minimum is – which is often where testing comes in. What makes for the simpler decision: a brand of dog food with a clear statement of nutritional benefit on the pack, or a brand of pet food with a larger and bigger-eyed dog?

(We know the answer to that one. Hint below.)