We love Unlimited.

Unlimited refills.

Bottomless fries.

Unlimited downloads.

All the time, any time.

Unlimited is a huge selling feature, but that doesn’t always make it more valuable (Chris Anderson wrote about this in Free).

Another way to add value is to make it more limited.

NetworkEffect.io reminds users of the brevity of our time (you’ve gotta view it on a desktop, but it’s worth it). Putting an expiry date at the front of a website is surprising because it shocks our expectation of Unlimited (this is part of Snapchat’s success).

It was only after using the Internet in South Africa, with its per-megabyte pricing structure, that I started to learn the value of it. I would carefully plan my time online to make sure the most important online tasks were completed first, keeping a careful eye on the megabyte-ticker in the corner of my screen.

We have a knee-jerk reaction to limits and constraints, but does Unlimited really make things better?

We appreciate sunsets, seasons and northern lights precisely because they’re so fleeting.

In this age of Unlimited, there are fewer outer constraints being placed on our consumption, but that doesn’t mean limits aren’t helpful. It does mean that we are increasingly required to set our own limits.

Designing Less

We can see the minimalism design trend as an expression of our need for limits. Minimalism is beautiful because it creates these limits and invites us to appreciate just a few well-considered things at a time.

But, in an age of Unlimited, designing Less requires extreme discipline.

In Getting Real, the folks from Basecamp (formerly 37 Signals) make a strong case for designing products with fewer features, less bells and whistles. Instead of asking users for suggestions on new features, they suggest asking, “If you could remove one feature, what would it be?”

Derek Sivers of CD Baby learned this important lesson from Steve Jobs.

In June of 2003, Steve Jobs gave a small private presentation about the iTunes Music Store to some independent record label people. My favorite line of the day was when people kept raising their hand saying, “Does it do ___(x)___?”, “Do you plan to add ___(y)___?”. Finally Jobs said, “Wait wait – put your hands down. Listen: I know you have a thousand ideas for all the cool features iTunes *could* have. So do we. But we don’t want a thousand features. That would be ugly. Innovation is not about saying yes to everything. It’s about saying NO to all but the most crucial features.”

In an age of Unlimited, creating beautiful things requires an extreme commitment to Less.