Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Feature Presentation

The New Yorker's take on feature fatigue ...

"Technology is supposed to make our lives easier, allowing us to do things more quickly and efficiently. But too often it seems to make things harder, leaving us with fifty-button remote controls, digital cameras with hundreds of mysterious features and book-length manuals, and cars with dashboard systems worthy of the space shuttle. This spiral of complexity, often called “feature creep,” costs consumers time, but it also costs businesses money. Product returns in the U.S. cost a hundred billion dollars a year, and a recent study by Elke den Ouden, of Philips Electronics, found that at least half of returned products have nothing wrong with them. Consumers just couldn’t figure out how to use them. Companies now know a great deal about problems of usability and consumer behavior, so why is it that feature creep proves unstoppable?

In part, feature creep is the product of the so-called internal-audience problem: the people who design and sell products are not the ones who buy and use them, and what engineers and marketers think is important is not necessarily what’s best for consumers. Being technically savvy themselves, engineers love to enhance the capabilities of a product and give users more control and more options, particularly now that, thanks to digitization, lots of added features don’t mean lots of added production costs. The engineers tend not to notice when more options make a product less usable. And marketing and sales departments see each additional feature as a new selling point, and a new way to lure customers. Often, the result is a product like Microsoft Word 2003, which has thirty-one toolbars and more than fifteen hundred commands.

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. A recent study by a trio of marketing academics—Debora Viana Thompson, Rebecca W. Hamilton, and Roland T. Rust—found that when consumers were given a choice of three models, of varying complexity, of a digital device, more than sixty per cent chose the one with the most features. Then, when the subjects were given the chance to customize their product, choosing from twenty-five features, they behaved like kids in a candy store. (Twenty features was the average.) But, when they were asked to use the digital device, so-called “feature fatigue” set in. They became frustrated with the plethora of options they had created, and ended up happier with a simpler product."    (Continued via The New Yorker)    [Usability Resources]

Feature Fatigue - Usability, User Interface Design

Feature Fatigue


Blogger Dennis said...

It's a well known fact that people always want bigger, better and more. They have the feeling that if they might buy the cheaper product with the less features, they'll regret it. So why not pay some extra to have one with all the features so than we have everything available.

But this is a known fact, we should not work around it but with it. It's a challenge for a designer and a marketeer to do something with this information. Can we educate the consumer? Will they educate themselves? How can we influence these people? These are questions which occupy me after reading your post.

1:24 PM  
Blogger michael said...

I don't have a problem with adding new features, but I'd like to see products make it easier to turn features off/ignore/customize them. Firefox is a good example: Very basic, but very expandable.

Word is a great example of the problem: It's a powerful tool for editing and collaborating, but for 99.9% of what I need, I'd like to strip it down to Wordpad+Headings. Photoshop, Premiere, and Dreamweaver are the same.

Maybe what developers should do is make yet another feature that allows software to run in different modes: Word processing mode, track changes mode, everything-and-the-kitchen-sink mode. Let the user decide what level of functionality they want.

Come to think of it, this a la carte functionality is exactly what I'm looking for in an operating system, and why I'm thinking of making the switch to Linux.

9:53 AM  

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