Moving beyond the Cult of Volume (Part 2)

Digital’s easy and cheap creative capabilities trap us in a Cult of Volume. According to digital agency founder, Liam Nugent, “a typical designer or programmer sees their job as to do, to make things. They ‘outsource the thinking’ because it’s a job, because that’s what they’ve been told to do by a client or manager.”

Liam and a colleague started their agency in Glasgow from basically nothing. They used free tiers of services such as Gmail and Dropbox to get started. They grew to about five people and for years delivered the best digital services to clients that they could. Finally, they decided that they’d like to do something different and decided to shut the agency.

“When I looked at everything, I realized I had 949 sets of credentials in my password manager for accounts I had created over ten years,” Liam explains. “Loads of them were tools and services. We in fact felt that we were conservative in relation to adding things. We weren’t like always on the bleeding edge of everything. But even at that, when you average it out, I was basically signing up for eight accounts a month.”

In digital, we are trapped in a monotonous, relentless process of change for change’s sake, of newness that is rarely useful and very often damaging but must be embraced because it’s new, and today if you’re not up with what’s new you’re just not cool and cutting edge and innovative, and your career will stall.

Do you remember the craze for hamburger menus a few years ago? Like a malignant virus it swept through Web design. First it invaded mobile and from there jumped to desktop. In vain, we tried to explain to clients that this was not a good design idea for them but it was an impossible argument. Hamburger menus had become the latest design tsunami driven by superficial newness and the addict’s desire for the latest hit. We watched as website after website introduced them and task success rate rapidly declined because there is a really ancient and basic law of navigation: If you hide navigation it gets used less.

Anyway, I have noticed that over the last year, a number of clients we work with have dumped the hamburgers and gone back to the “traditional” navigation structure. The result? Better task success rates. There is always something “new” out there, although few stop to ask the question: “Is it really better?”

“There’s a better way to host git repos so we’re going to start using that,” Liam says, somewhat ruefully. “But we’re not going to go through the pain of migrating the 14 ones we have on that other one to this one, so we’ll now just keep two running. And at every point, even though you thought you were trying to be smart and you thought you were trying to be efficient, day-to-day pressures would get in the way, and you would just accrue all this stuff.”

The road to complexity is paved with good intentions, and at a certain point complexity becomes your master. “We started getting these Frankenstein monsters where we were not sure if we switched it off what would happen,” Liam states.

So we produce and add and we never subtract. And so we feed the monster.

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