The Law of Brand Subtraction

All technology springs from the human need to get something done more efficiently. And that is what many people seek, especially as they get older: A simpler and more streamlined life, free from unnecessary distractions.

But technologists, as well as entrepreneurs, frequently violate this need—“the law of subtraction” for short.

For their focus is more often on the capability than the human, and as such they tend to add more and more bells and whistles to the system—eventually fracturing the user experience into a million smaller pieces.

What if this?
What if that?
What if the other thing?

They forget how much financial reward is associated with skilled simplicity.
Steve Jobs uniquely understood this, and it is how he built Apple into a top world brand despite its relative difficulty of use where some of the key features are concerned – namely, iTunes.
Target is another brand that understands the user. The fundamental principle is simple: Affordable style, arranged tastefully and in the same physical reach.
Google of course is the penultimate simple user interface, with an explosion of sophisticated algorithms hidden behind a deceptively simple screen, with an inviting wide box that asks you this: What are you searching for today?

Great brand design, manifested in a product, a store or a website, is always centered on the human experience first and on tactical sophistication much later on. The latter not an afterthought, but rather more like an engine beneath a smoothly purring automobile that goes from 0 to 100 in 10 seconds flat.

Why then do we still have trouble designing a human (and humane) brand experience for the user?

The problem is not in the sophistication of the tools themselves. A new service,, allows you to design your own logo in about 5 minutes flat, using artificial intelligence to figure out what looks will likely most please you.

Rather, the issue is the very human nature of the people who create products and services for the rest of us. It is human beings who aggress, who are egotistical and defensive, who refuse to collaborate, who focus on winning at all costs, and so on. They build shrines to themselves as geniuses—instead of serving the user. As a result, a brand that could be a joy to experience leaves the user drowning in complexity.

The lessons of simplicity in brand design are often overlooked or mistaken for an emphasis on dullness, for even a lack of the necessary sophistication to bring a unique and valuable brand proposition to life.

But overcomplicating things is wrongheaded; it always has been.

Because so many rush to add and add and add color to the painting, the winners tend to be those who take much of it away. And in so doing, they make the achievement look “easy.”

You can single these people out of the crowd by their demeanor. The attitude is timeless: consistent, professional and calm. Working with them is pleasant, as well as productive. And the products and services they deliver are high-quality - always, somehow, just right.

How to win today? As a technologist or entrepreneur?
It isn't by competing on extras.

Focus only on owning a single, simple concept in the mind - your position.

Sharpening your expertise continually.

Then polish your skills at delivering -- again, on the few details that matter.

Be amazing at something very pared down, and make it known to the narrow segment of customers whose business you care about most.


Copyright by Dr. Dannielle Blumenthal. All rights reserved. All opinions are the author's own. Photo by the author. No endorsement expressed or implied. Updated May 16, 2018.