Striking a Balance Between Detail and Abstraction

Posted on Apr 13, 2013

It’s a pretty common theme of late in the product & design world – the idea of “invisible design” – that truly great products can be abstracted to a transparent state where they deliver all the magic without any heavy interface or apparent complexity. Having recently read a couple of interesting antithetical points of view on the topic, I’ve been thinking a lot about how this applies to what I do on a daily basis.

I’m a marketer, not a product designer. Nonetheless, I’m faced with similar questions every day of how much detail and complexity I should surface or abstract in the way we market our product. It’s something I think a lot about.

As a marketer, I also spend a fair amount of time demoing our product to prospects and other interested parties. I’m convinced that there are few better ways to hone how you position your product than actually demoing it to prospective customers. Abstract too much and the other party either asks questions, sounds bored, or sounds disappointed. Surface more detail than is necessary and confusion quickly becomes apparent. Demoing your product is an invaluable experience and one that no marketer should ever drift too far away from.

The conclusion I’m inching toward? That when it comes to complexity vs. abstraction, it’s all about balance (for both the product designer and the marketer.)

First off, realize that attention spans are short.

Conveying too much detail in your messaging or your product is a common mistake. You love your product. It’s your baby, and you want to tell the whole world about every feature, every improvement. You live it, you breathe it, and you want that to show through.

But the truth of the matter is that 80% of people simply don’t have a need for an extreme level of detail on your product. (It’s the first thing we learn in marketing 101 – “What’s in it for me?”) Potential customers want to know what’s in it for them, and whether or not it allows for their use case(s). For this reason, your top line messaging – the story you tell during a demo, and the product copy on your website, for example – should mostly err on the side of simplicity and abstraction.

At the same time – don’t sell your product short.

But this assertion doesn’t hold true 100% of the time. Some people want to geek out on your product; others want evidence of your care and attention to detail (especially as they inch deeper into the research process and near a purchase decision.) For this reason, it’s still important to strike a balance between abstracting the details and conveying the depth of your product. (This is *especially* true in light of products that are designed to abstract their own details and depth.)

Here are some great examples of marketing that goes a level deeper to showcase the meat and detail of a product…

  • The story of Readability – This is a favorite of mine - It’s a detailed look at the story and painstaking process that the folks from Readability went through in building their product. It’s beautifully executed, and a great way to tell the detailed story of a product.
  • Video on the HubSpot Salesforce Integration – Here is something I worked on with some other folks here at HubSpot. Integrations are a tough thing to market, and we wanted to tell the story of our Salesforce integration in an interesting and easily understandable format. (Video proved again to be a great medium. We did a lot of work to show off how much care and attention to detail goes into our integration, but also bring it back to our high level message on what HubSpot is all about.)

Above all else: balance.

At the end of the day, it’s most important to strike a balance. Keep the high level story on most of your marketing materials clear and easy to understand, but offer jumping off points for people who want to dig deeper. No one design movement, trend, or theme should be the sole guidance in how you build your product or tell your story through marketing.

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