Minimalism: The most undervalued development skill

If you want a cheap trick to make a difference — here's one: minimalism. Focus on the bare essentials and get rid of the rest. It's an easy way to differentiate, because most others are doing the opposite: tons of crap.

Created: December 24, 2019 / Edited: July 24, 2020

Disqus

446K

Custom: 3.2K

Optimizely

798K

Volument: 3.9K

Sentry

58K

Custom: 0.2K

Massive difference

Above you see some popular SAAS products. This website uses alternate versions of those products, that we built from scratch in a minimalistic fashion. That is: we only built the core functionality, in a way we wanted, and left out all the rest — the “crap”. The resulting product is faster, has fewer issues, is easier to use, and gives us more control. Seriously.

Just get rid of the crappy stuff and focus on the good stuff.

Steve Jobs

Let's skim the details:

  • Disqus is an embeddable commenting software. The one you can see and try on this page is significantly faster, has no annoying clutter, and is easier to use.
  • Optimizely is a popular A/B testing software. It is 200 times bigger than volument.js and has tons of issues.
  • Sentry is an error tracking tool similar to Raygun. They are both 200-300 times bigger than the code on this site:
window.onerror = function(msg, _path, line, column, error) {
  fetch('/errors', {
    error: error ? error.stack : '',
    column: column,
    line: line,
    msg: msg
  })
  return false
}
This is all we need. Works perfectly and gets the job done.

Just think about it: when the core is just 1% of the product, what does the rest of the code do? Likely nothing you absolutely need.

Maintenance is another thing. Volument client weights 4kb which corresponds to 350 lines of source code. With this ratio, Optimizely client has 70,000 lines of executable code.

We have a single developer taking care of the codebase. Does Optimizely need ten people to handle theirs? Or twenty? We don't know, but one thing is for certain: 20 people make more redundancy, technical debt, and bugs than one.

Real opportunity

According to HTTP archive the average size of a web page has gone up from 460K to 1850K in nine years. The internet is four times fatter.

Timeseries of total kilobytes. Sudden drops are mostly changes in measurement strategy.

If you are struggling to find a market for your product, do what nobody else seems to do: choose minimalism as your leading product development strategy. Start making less, but significantly better stuff.

Listen to Steve Jobs or Dieter Rams on product design, Salvatore Sanfilippo on programming, and Seth Godin on content.

Minimalism is a sparse human skill to strip down everything to bare essentials. It's the ability to say no to 99% of things. It's hard, but it makes a difference. Likely more than you think.

Less is More

Mies van der Rohe

Pioneers of modernist architecture

Minimalism is hard

Minimalism is hard because it scares the hell out of your bosses. They seem to prefer the opposite. They want you to add more call-to-action buttons, make them bigger, and “spice them up” with fancy background colors. More is more.

This was hard to swallow because, as designers & developers, we were taught to focus on usability.

The hardest part, however, was that our former A/B testing tool emphasized short-term wins. When we added a huge sales overlay, it appeared to bring more conversions because the return visitors were ready to take action. Unfortunately the new visitors hit the back button as soon as they arrived, but they were not counted since the conversion rate went up.

This is the reason we started building Volument. We wanted to show the marketing team, that conversions are results of great user experience. We wanted a rock-solid optimization tool without the measurement problems and we didn't want to wait absurdly long to get the results.

With Volument, we can finally pursue our minimalistic religion, iterate quickly, and collect maximum wins.

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