February 05, 2008
Bells and Whistles
"Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful" -- William Morris
When we started Glance our idea was just this: Make it simple to show what you see to others -- as simple as talking to them on the phone.
We wanted it to be effortless, elegant, and instant. We spent a lot of time not putting in extra features and complexity. And we had the help of some really smart advisors who kept beating us up whenever we strayed and thought we had to have this feature or that.
I think we all admire products that are beautiful, elegant and a joy to use. So why are most products so complicated and painful to use?
I think it's because of human nature. At the point of sale, we're dazzled by the features. And I'm not alone...
There's an article I found fasciating about this paradox, written by Roland Rust, Debora Viana Thompson and Rebecca Hamilton in the February 2006 issue of Harvard Business Review. Entitled "Defeating Feature Fatigue", they ask why products succumb to feature bloat, why consumers say one thing and buy another, and finally, what really makes customers happy.
Some of their conclusions from their research (and they've got interesting hard data to back these up):
"Consumers know that products with more features are harder to use, but before they purchase a product they value its capability more than its usability"
"Once consumers have used a product, their preferences change. Suddenly usability matters very much."
This is why it's tough to keep designs simple.
You can imagine how the purchase decision process goes. It's hard making a commitment to a software product or service. You want to make the best choice, and you want to be objective. But it's hard to be objective about the subjective experience. It's easier to say "Well, BrandX has this and that and the other thing. I don't think I need those thing, but it's safer to get them just in case I ever do." Then no one uses it (or learns to creatively curse) when it's hard to use.
Worse still, someone gets tasked with picking a solution. So they interview everyone about their "requirements". And everyone tries to think of anything they've ever heard of. And a huge laundry list of requirements gets generated. Then the poor shmo sets out looking for the product that slices, dices and has a built in AM/FM clock radio.
So, as Rust et al. point out [emphasis added]:
"If you are a manager in a consumer products company, our research presents you with a dilemma. Adding features improves the initial attractiveness of a product but utimately decreases customer's satisfaction with it. So, what should you do?"
Many of their suggestions match what we've done. Consider this set of requirements:
- I want my 9:00am Web Demo to start at 9:00am
- I want it to just work, no matter what or is on the other end or where they are located
- I don't want to have to involve IT, or support or anyone else
- I don't want the demo tool to get in the way of my presentation
What matters more than that? Is it worth giving up seldom used bells and whistles, if you could have all that? Give us a try.
-- Rich Baker, Founder & CEO, Glance Networks