June 1, 2007, 2:18 pm
In Which No One Knows What They Want
By Henry Woodbury
James Surowiecki writes about feature creep in a recent New Yorker column. He starts by naming the usual suspects: engineers devoted to custom tweaks, marketers enticed by more selling points.
But feature creep goes beyond the failure of the internal audience:
You might think, then, that companies could avoid feature creep by just paying attention to what customers really want. But that’s where the trouble begins, because although consumers find overloaded gadgets unmanageable, they also find them attractive. It turns out that when we look at a new product in a store we tend to think that the more features there are, the better. It’s only once we get the product home and try to use it that we realize the virtues of simplicity.
Thus it falls to designers to aggressively promote simplicity (over everyone’s objections).
This is easier to do with corporate/organizational customers, I’ll bet, than it is in consumer product markets.
When faced with a major software purchasing decision for our organization a few years ago, there were two major competitors at the time. Our local testers perceived one to be more powerful, but very complex. The other was considered much easier to use. It was a product that we wanted people to adopt and use. (And either would cost enough that we needed to produce a successful outcome.)
We talked to a lot of customers of both companies. Routinely, the people who did the support of the product of the more powerful application would report that they needed to offer 1-2 days of training to get people up and running on that application. The other, simpler product usually required, at most 1-2 hours of initial training. Everywhere we asked, the complex-yet-powerful application had a small group of dedicated power users, but slow overall adoption. The easier software had queues of people lining up to use it.
We opted for the simpler application. Within 18 months, almost everybody was using the product daily.
That company grew to have the absolute dominant position within its category. (Then it bought up its more complex rival.)
Posted by EB on June 4, 2007 at 9:40 am