August 28, 2009

Minimalism (short title intentional)

They question of the day—is less really more?

I don’t know a lot about art (except that I appreciate it when it’s good). But I remember often hearing subtle advice about leaving plenty of “white space”—i.e. don’t clutter up the work, because less is more.

Recently, I heard some manager at work say: “I don’t care what it looks like…just give me content, content, content.” Again, to me the theme was the same—as they say, keep it simple stupid (a.k.a. KISS).

It reminded me of what one of my high school teachers used to say about class assignments: Just give me the “meat and potatoes”.

Then, I read an interesting article in Wired (September 2009) about Craig Newmark and his company, Craigslist, which is the epitome of minimalism, when it comes to design, features, and functions.

“Besides offering nearly all of its features for free, it scorns advertising, refuses investments, ignores design, and does not innovate.”

Craigslist looks like no other website that I’ve ever seen on the Internet. It has no graphics. No pictures (unless it’s associated with a listing). Little real text. It’s basically just layers upon layers of links, until you get to a particular listing. The site seems to disregard all the accepted standards of website design, navigation, and functionality.

“Craigslist is one of the strangest monopolies in history, where customers are locked in by fees set at zero and where the ambiance of neglect is not a way to extract more profit but the expression of a world view.”

And what is Craig Newark’s world view?

Minimalism and simplicity.

And in the crazy world we live in today of hyper consumerism, accumulation of wealth, ever-increasing productivity, acceleration of communications, boosting of processing power, aggregation of data, and doing more with less—the simple and minimalistic approach of Craigslist is an oasis in a desert of often meaningless greed and gluttony.

Newmark says: “People are good and trustworthy and generally just concerned with getting through the day.”

Therefore, “All you have to do to serve them well is build a minimal infrastructure allowing them to get together and work things out for themselves. Any additional features are almost superfluous and could even be damaging.”

So how is Craigslist doing with such a simple approach—is it being overrun by the more aggressive web builders and entrepreneurs of our time?

Au contraire. “Craigslist get more traffic then either eBay or eBay has more than 16,000 employees. Amazon has more than 20,000. Craigslist has 30.”

Moreover, according to their factsheet, Craigslist has more than 20 billion page views per month. And more than 50 million people use it in the U.S. alone.

Estimates are that Craigslist generates more than a $100 million in revenue and is worth billions.

While I can't say that I am a big user myself, these are some pretty amazing stats for a site that is bare bones and maybe more than a little awkward.

The philosophy of Newmark is: why add the “bells and whistles” if the user doesn’t want or need it?

In a sense, Craig Newmark is one of the most user-centric enterprise architects of our time. He genuinely seeks to understand his customer needs and to serve them in a way that meets them in an almost primal fashion.

Newmark has architected Craigslist in a uniquely user-centric way, undeterred that it runs counter to almost all conventional website wisdom.


1 comment:

Jamie said...

I definitely agree with your user-centric focus and Newmark's simplistic approach. I'm a firm believer of ..."just because you can doesn't mean you should."