Subtractive ThinkingMark Gallagher and Laura Savard
Few would argue with the statements: “Less is more” (Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, architect), “Do more with less” (Buckminster Fuller, structural engineer), or “Less but better” (Dieter Rams, industrial designer). The list goes on. Each of these minimalists built through subtraction. You too can benefit from a minimalist approach.
Most brands and businesses focus on adding value by adding functions. Yet, subtraction is more than just a way of reducing costs. Subtractive thinking can add real value, both by cutting cost and increasing usability.
+ Create: Develop by designing from scratch
+ Improve: Build upon by enhancing what already exists
- Reduce: Minimize by taking down to the bare essentials
- Eliminate: Remove by doing away with entirely
Only when both additive and subtractive change are viewed as being equal potential sources of worth, will companies explore their options fully. Companies need to look at what to remove as much as what to add.
The new economy is already seeing subtractive thinking at work. Consumers are willing to accept less when it provides more. A Netbook isn’t a cheap laptop with a tiny, low-res screen and slow processor speed. It is an affordable, convenient solution to email, web surfing, word processing… and people love them. This only goes against the conventional wisdom of getting more for your money, when you define “more” as features rather than benefits. From this “benefits perspective,” we can see that less is more, and many brands are gaining more from less.
Subtractive thinking applies to Business Models, Product Design and Brand Development. Here are some successful examples:
Saturn removed negotiations from the car buying experience
Subway removed the traditional kitchen from the fast food restaurant
Netflix removed the storefront from video rentals
Little Caesar’s removed the restaurant from the pizzeria
Apple removed complexity from the user interface
Yellow Tail removed the pretension from selecting wine
Subtractive thinking isn’t about cutting costs or corners. It is about building value through subtraction. Be mindful. What you take away from the equation, can take away from the experience. As Antoine de Saint-Exupery so eloquently stated: “Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.”