As the buttons disappear, few are as well known as Staples’ “Easy Button” – a red glowing Staples button that was featured in a series of ad campaigns beginning in 2005. The ads were so popular that Staples ended up selling real Easy Button replicas shortly after launch – and it has since sold millions of office toys.
The fictional Easy Buttons featured in the advertisements possess magical qualities that allow the user to witchcraft their problems (usually related to office supplies) with the push of a button. The sad irony, of course, is that the actual version of the product is significantly more disappointing. Pressing it does not summon Printer Ink or lift the Great Wall to defend against an invading army. Instead, it just plays a recording of the company tagline “It was easy” when you press the button (satisfying click).
Outside of the metafictional context of Staples ads, however, the idea of a big, magical red button you can press to fix a problem is one that resonates with the whole concept of material design. Of course, the real world easy button is just a cute toy to leave on your desk or annoy your coworkers. But almost all of the hardware buttons out there are born from the same philosophy as the more magical version of the ad: it’s a physical object designed for users to press, push, switch, or turn in order to solve a specific problem or turn. accomplish a task.
The Easy Button imagines a world in which our buttons have been elevated to an even higher standard. An area where the things buttons can do or the problems they can solve aren’t limited by trivial things like electricity, programming, or the laws of physics. One where no problem is too big or complicated that it can’t be solved with the push of a button.
But Easy Button’s journey from the marketing gimmick to the actual product doesn’t end with a wacky cabin accessory – because the internet has taken the original idea of the Easy Button and worked with it, with a number of of tutorials available on how to hack the $ 9 toy. The most common hacks revolve around modifying hardware with a microphone to record your own taglines for the Easy Button’s metal speaker to pop out.
Other hacks go further, such as installing an Arduino microcontroller that allows the once-unnecessary button to be connected to a computer or custom hardware configuration. And with that kind of hardware and a few programming chops, the sky is the limit for what you can do with your Easy Button, like booting up your computer, exiting a Zoom call, or even ordering additional paper from Staples.
It’s still not quite the level of literal magic Staples promises in its ads, but after years, the converging forces of a marketing campaign turned into a desk toy turned into a DIY tool have come full circle: an infinitely programmable button that can, in theory, do almost anything with just a push. And really, what else could you ask for from a pimple beyond?