Are More Features Always Better?7 Comments Latest comment by: Goran S
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This morning I got an email from a friend of mine who is in the venture capital business. It had an attachment to a very interesting article in the April 2006 edition of Business 2.0 magazine.
In that article titled "Simple Minds", the author Paul Kedrosky criticizes what he calls the "Simplicity Cult" and makes a case that, in general, products should have more features, not less.
Paul on "Simplicity Cult" & "More is More"
In his article, Paul says that the "simplicity cult" has been made more powerful by three "coincident market and technology forces":
- Most people use only a fraction of the features of their software. For example, an average Microsoft Word user uses only about 10% of its features.
- We're all overloaded with information and "pessimists think... (we) need someone to take the info-candy away".
- iPod has made playing songs so simple and easy that the "cult" wants everyone to simplify their products.
Then Paul gives the example of airbags in cars which he correctly points out as a feature that "most people will... never once" use. Then he wonders why the "simplicity goons" aren't going after airbags!
He says: "What we learn from airbags... is that the solution isn't to eliminate features from products... The solution is to have more features... in ways that are less intrusive and more carefully prioritized".
The current obsession with simplicity... (is) built on at least one false premise, that less is more. More is more, and it always has been and always will be. [emphasis added]
Kathy on "Happy User Peak" & "Featuritis"
Paul's article got me thinking. I've believed for some years now that simpler is better - in almost all cases. Did I have it wrong? Is it time to revisit my belief system?!
Finding myself paralyzed with this almost metaphysical question, I did what any self-respecting Silicon Valley techie would do... I Googled it! To be technically correct - I searched in Yahoo 'My Web' where I keep an electronic copy of all the good articles & blogs I read.
In a few short seconds, the Gods who reside in Yahoo's servers found the answer for me! It was in a blog article by Kathy Sierra - one of my favorite bloggers - titled Featuritis vs. the Happy User Peak.
In it Kathy shows a totally cool chart which I have reproduced below (Many thanks to Kathy, chart reproduced under Creative Commons license by-nc-sa-2.5):
This chart is one of those cases where I feel that the saying "A picture is worth a thousand words" is totally true! In her blog, Kathy argues that all too often companies push their products too far past the "Happy User Peak", driven by fear:
- Fear of being perceived as having fewer features than their competitors.
- Fear that their products won't be viewed as complete.
- Fear that customers are making purchase decisions off of a checklist, and that the product with the most features wins.
- Fear of losing key customers who say, "If you don't add THIS feature... I'll have to go elsewhere."
Kathy concludes by saying:
Be brave. And besides, continuing to pile on new features eventually leads to an endless downhill slide toward poor usability and maintenance. A negative spiral of incremental improvements. Fighting and clawing for market share by competing solely on features is an unhealthy, unsustainable, and unfun way to live.
My Take on Simplicity
After reading Kathy's article and thinking some more, I felt more at ease! No need to change my belief system just yet. But I did remind myself of something important.
It is very important to first understand customer needs and then create a product that meets those needs in an easy-to-use fashion. For example, say you had learned your customers need a Swiss Army knife with a blade, nail file and scissors. Which product is better: The one shown below? Or the one at the top of this article - it has all three features and many more?
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Now what if you had learned that your customers need a blade, nail file and corkscrew? Which one would you sell to them? Or would you design a brand new product?
Simpler is indeed better, as long as your product meets your customers' core needs. You may lose some customers because you don't have some non-core features, but in most cases - I believe - that loss will be more than made up by those customers you gain since your product is simple, easy to use and yet meets their core needs.
Let me conclude by quoting Kathy:
Give users what they actually want... And whatever you do, don't give them new features just because your competitors have them!
Be the "I Rule" product, not the "This thing I bought does everything, but I suck!" product. (See chart above)
I could not put it any better!
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About the Author: I'm your author, Michael Shrivathsan, an expert in product management and product marketing with successful experience spanning two decades. I live in Silicon Valley, USA. For my day job, I manage the product management & marketing teams at Accompa, makers of requirements management software and product management tools.