More Cowbell... I say More White Space! / by Scott Nichols

In Seth Godin’s book Linchpin, there is a great chapter that highlights a famous SNL skit featuring Will Ferrell and Christopher Walken. Will Ferrell plays a member of Blue Oyster Cult, whose job is to play the cowbell on the track Don’t Fear the Reaper. Playing the cowbell in a rock band is pretty insignificant in contrast to the vocals, drums and guitars. However, at Walken’s request for more cowbell, Ferrell fully embraces his part and owns it. The result is some extremely enthusiastic cowbell playing. Using that skit as an example, Seth points out why it’s so essential to not just play your part but to own it. 

An article on today, reminded me about the More Cowbell chapter in Seth’s book. The article is about Apple’s recent marketing campaign for the Apple watch. Specifically, the 12-page spread in the March issue of Vogue. A single page ad in Vogue can go for $189,888. Apple purchased twelve of those. That is very expensive print real-estate. Now the tendency of most organizations would be to cram every square inch with as much content as possible. However, Apple did just the opposite.

At Apple’s core is a value of great design. Great design extends to every facet of what Apple does. Apple has spent years iterating its design of the Apple watch. That is why they are completely comfortable taking 12-pages in Vogue and filling it with all product, lots of white space, no unnecessary words and no prices. Great design or rather thoughtful design speaks for itself, it doesn't require an explanation. Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart’s characterization of pornography was “I know it when I see it”. I believe that the same characterization is true of thoughtful design work.

So to get the point… it occurred to me that for an organization that values thoughtful design, it is important that value be expressed in everything it does. Without the need for unnecessary embellishment or varnish; thoughtful design work stands on its own. Like Will Ferrell’s character, if your organization values design… don’t just play the part… own it. The mantra of more cowbell could simply translate to more white space. Let the work speak for itself. Once the audience is engaged, then provide opportunities for them to then learn more about the features and process.