The expression ‘less is more’ still holds sway in the world of product design. But can value be measured by virtue of how many features a product has – or is doing one thing exceptionally well more critical?
Let’s dig deeper into this contentious statement to see how well it holds up in the ever-changing landscape of product design.
So, more features + more value = a greater product?
If only product design teams could use a simple formula like this to outmanoeuvre their competitors and become the go-to company for time-poor consumers spoilt for choice in a busy market.
Unfortunately, the process can’t be reduced to a simple algorithm.
Three problems product design teams face
Here are just a few of the challenges a business will face when trying to ensure product success.
1. Users become addicted to features – even bad ones
Taking the ‘less is better’ approach, a design team might remove seldom-used features to create an agile product that’ll stand out head and shoulders above its competitors. When this happens, there’s often a backlash – with the minority of customers who use those features voicing their dissatisfaction on social media.
2. One good feature does not make a great product
Designing a stand-out function that’ll wow users and make them flock to buy a product is time-consuming and hard to achieve. Multiplying this effect several folds is even harder. Most products released to market boast one strong USP at best – the remaining features being either poorly designed or instantly forgettable. Think about it. How many features on your smartphone do you rely on and use daily?
3. Not all users will use all features
Even a well thought through product brimming over with useful features can fall flat. That’s because users rarely take advantage of each available function, instead cherry-picking a few while ignoring the rest. Is it worth tying up internal resources (at great expense) to design features that’ll add no intrinsic value?
Is more or less better? Neither approach is infallible, making it hard to ascertain whether one is stronger than the other.
Is there a relationship between ‘less’ and first-class product design?
As previous examples made clear, there’s no correlation between less features and strong product design. But specific steps can be taken to improve focus to ensure the finished article is as polished as it can be.
To achieve this, teams should agree on a series of questions to ask whenever a request is received.
These questions would act as a firewall of sorts – so that only features which added user value were considered.
Pushing back – questions that improve focus
So, what sort of questions should product design teams ask in response to internal requests? Although the control they have is limited, here are some suggestions.
Does this feature make sense?
A function can seem – on the face of it at least – like a good idea. But will users take advantage of it? Returning to the example given earlier – smartphones are packed to the brim with many clever features that are never used. Product designers must think like users and present their views accordingly to challenge the status quo.
Why is this function important?
Before asking this question, designers must have a response prepared that draws on solid metrics. Knowing how and why a user interacts with a product is essential before agreeing or disagreeing with a request.
What emotion should it invoke?
Have you ever seen the queues outside retail outlets days before the next iPhone release? That’s emotion in action. A well-designed product will make its customers feel good – because of its shape, features, or interface (perhaps all three). Unless adding another feature will make that gadget, app, or device more lovable the idea should be crumpled up and thrown in the bin. The saying ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ has never been truer.
So…is less better or not?
Sometimes but not always. One thing is for certain. Prioritising quantity over quality is a no-no when it comes to product design. Similarly, a feature should never be included if (i) it will alienate its loyal audience; (ii) it serves no purpose other than to bulk up the overall offering; (iii) it isn’t backed by solid data that supports user needs.
Good product design boils down to good user experience in the end. This means shifting the focus away from the ‘less versus more’ argument and instead focussing on existing and prospective customers’ wants and needs.
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