Product Leaders

with Adam Nash

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Simple is recognizing the need to prove the tree and embracing opinionated design.

Adam Nash

CEO of Wealthfront, Product Expert, Founder

Lessons Learned

It is easier to add features and customer requests than to keep it simple.

We are all standing on the shoulders of giants.

With movement from desktop to web, code bases started to live forever.


Lesson: Product Leaders with Adam Nash

Step #6 Simple: Simple is recognizing the need to prove the tree and embracing opinionated design

It turns out there was this guy, he was a founder of Apple, kind of a big deal. He was gone for a while, he came back. In recent days his name is often invoked around the beauty of simplicity and how hard simple is. The truth is, I still include this because it's true, it's so hard. We all are standing on the shoulders of giants. We all have to pay the price for historical problems.

The first and greatest pure software company that really got forged, Microsoft, went down the path of hiring really smart people, caring about design and built a product that ended up being Microsoft Office that had so many features and items that people still invoke its name as the example of we don't to end up like Office. We're going to do it better this time.

Microsoft didn't end up with Office because they didn't listen to customers. They didn't end up with Office because they didn't look at metrics. They ended up with Office because it's a really hard problem. It's so much easier to add features, customer requests, all those things I talked about in the earlier slides, they're all additive, add, add, add.

Then we did a terrible thing as an industry, when we moved from the desktop to the Web. It turned out, in the desktop one way that we dealt with it was we would just "end of life" products. We'd get to version five and it'd be like, "Yeah, we can't work with this code-base anymore in this design. We're going to start anew. We're going to launch a new product that goes out for this use case, but we'll design it from scratch."

I was a big fan after version three, was when you re-wrote the whole codebase, "Just throw it out." Then we went to the Web and the Web inherited a little bit of its enterprise roots when we made codebases that never, ever died. There's code running forever. We just add on to the codebase. You add on to the codebase, you add on to design, you get more and more features, you can always add more links to a page. Simple is really hard.

I feel bad, I see Web 1.0 companies. They try to simplify their experience because they take the page from 2,000 links to 1,500 and they're high-fiving all over the place. It's really hard.

I actually think that mobile is a gift. I think that people doing mobile first design get to ask hard questions. A small device with different use case, what really matters? Then all of a sudden, they look at the desktop version and they're like, "Why is 95% of the desktop experience different than what we decided. What's the important on mobile?" So I'm a big fan of mobile first design, for that reason.

I would say though, that simple goes beyond that. I think that simple really comes down to recognizing that, yes you have to prune the tree, you have to take things away. Every feature you launch will have someone who uses it. You have to be okay with upsetting some people. This path where you try and make all of of your customers happy all the time, is the enemy of inspired design. It's the enemy of opinionated design. If you don't have opinionated design, you're going to end up with a very blah "designed by committee" looking product.

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