Innovation usually starts with the seed of a simple idea. The challenge is to nurture that seed and let it grow into a product or service—without overcomplicating its initial simplicity.
In 2006, a team of designers at a small California firm called Pure Digital Technologies released a video camcorder that proved a big hit with consumers. A year later, it was rebranded as the Flip product line. From 2008-09, the video camcorder market soared 35% with 90% of that growth driven by Flip products.
The Flip’s instant popularity, what The New York Times later called “one of the great tech start-up success stories” of the decade, was based on the creators’ overriding goal of design simplicity. They applied the “30-second test” to the Flip prototype: a first-time user had to be able to turn it on and make it work within 30 seconds of handling it.
Retaining a simple, elegant design isn’t as easy as it sounds. As products evolve, “feature creep” can set in. Design engineers can keep adding features that they deem cool, but that most consumers don’t want or need.
The 30-second rule dictated many decisions for Flip’s design team. The camera only had four buttons (on/off, record, playback, delete) and did not ship with any installation CD or cables.
Flip’s creators initially sought to avoid printing any instruction manual. Eventually, they agreed to ship the device with a succinct “quick-start” guide. Their goal was to ensure every aspect of the camera was easy-to-use and unintimidating.
— Adapted from The Innovation Secrets of Steve Jobs, Carmine Gallo, McGraw-Hill.