Saying more with less, and cutting your prose to the core

[Image courtesy of TechStage at Flickr Creative Commons]

Following my recent (re-)introduction to the wonderful world of Apple, I’ve become something of a fanboy. From the free iPad I got a few weeks back, I’ve graduated to a (purchased) iPad mini 2 with retina display: a slick, state-of-the-art ‘fondleslab’ if ever there was one.

But what’s really struck me is not the build quality, or the display, or the ease of use – though all three are pretty impressive.

No, it’s the clarity of the message. The instructions are crystal-clear, the language pared-down and precise, and the tone friendly and engaging. From the very first screen (Hola! Hello! it says) the iPad setup and configuration process is like a chat with your best new friend.

We all know the story of Apple design: it’s all about eliminating complexity. So the iPod was a marvel of minimalism, an example that was followed through by the iPhone and iPad. But for me, the interesting thing is that they also eliminated complexity from all their written materials.

As a closet geek, I like to really get to know things inside out. So I’m actually reading all 300-odd pages of the iPad user guide to get the lowdown on all those hidden features that most people never discover.

The manual is a shining example of how to get it right.

Simple language, logical steps, bulleted and numbered points. All of the information is presented in bite-sized chunks, with just enough detail to find out what you need to know. Hyperlinks take you to cross-referenced sections, and screen captures illustrate a feature at exactly the right point.

But here’s the thing: this simplicity is deceptive. I’m sure they started out with lots more detail, and just like the iPod, iPad and iPhone, they designed out the complexity. It’s a lesson we should all learn from. It’s a lesson that some of us already have.

Anker, for example, who produce a range of accessories for Apple products.

Simple is as simple does

I was looking for a second lightning cable, so I could set up a juice point for my iPad downstairs as well as up. But all third-party lightning cables are not equal, it seems. Some are certified by Apple, and others aren’t.

Anker is. And they appear to have taken a leaf out of Apple’s style guide, as I saw as soon as the cable arrived and I took the box out of the wrapping.

Anker: smart just got easier, it said. Already, I was beginning to like these people. Inside, the story got better: we hope you never have the need, but if you do, our service is friendly and hassle free.

I decided I liked them even more. Their goal of making the smart life easier meant starting with affordable, high quality gear and ending with a commitment to 100% user satisfaction, they went on to say. After all, we’re customers too.

Don’t you just love them? Inside the box was a card that said Happy? on one side with a little sun, and Not happy? on the other with a raincloud.

You see what they’re doing here, don’t you? They’re not Apple, and yet they sound like them. They’re riding on the back of the Apple touchy-feely experience, if anything pushing it to a point that Apple hasn’t yet reached. 

They’re doing what lots of clients I speak to would like to do. We’d like to be more like Apple, they say. So what’s stopping you? I say.

The answer, of course, is nothing. Simple language doesn’t cost anything, and simple policies and procedures are easily created, implemented and followed.

What I suspect is holding them back is the thought that you can get too simple. Too pared-down. Too telegraphic. But you know what? You can’t, because that’s what people respond to in this age of reduced attention spans and digital impatience.

Next time you think I wish our brand could be more like Apple (and I suspect most companies have those moments) take a look at your written materials, and see how they could be cut down and made more reader-friendly.

It is possible. Anker have done it, and they’re reaping the rewards. You could too.

All you have to do is take the first bite.