In product development, is less more? Or is it truly just less?
Feature creep is a common problem in tech products. After all, more features mean more functionality and, hopefully, more users. But adding a feature just because it’s flashy or because you can isn’t smart.
Of course, certain features are important to the actual purpose of your product. So how can you tell the difference?
Before building any new feature into your tech product, think through the pros and cons. Consider these six signs that you might want to skip it:
- The customer didn’t ask for it.
Before you design any type of product, you need to know your customers. You should be familiar with the products that are already out there and what features they have. You should have looked at market demographics and located a needy niche.
Say you’re working to develop a smartphone. You might be right that parents want an internet-free kids phone. But should it have GPS? What about a music player? Should it be able to send and receive picture messages?
Obviously, kids have different needs in a phone than adult users. But unless you talk to them — and their parents — you won’t know exactly what those are.
A good example is iTunes. Remember how slim and usable it was back in the early 2000s? Then, Apple engineers decided the program needed to view, play, and manage every type of media imaginable. Surely, they thought, it could also double as an app store.
Soon, iTunes became a monstrosity nobody wanted to use. Apple killed the product last year in favor of Apple Music, its streaming music service.
- It diminishes your design.
Socrates said “each individual can do only one thing well.” A few centuries later Steve Jobs said, “Do not try to do everything. Do one thing well.” It’s good advice, no matter who said it.
Think of your initial product design as a sleek and shiny office design. The foundation is strong. The lines are crisp and clean.
Then, someone on your development team wants to add a turret somewhere, or a spire, or an extra couple of narrower floors on top. All the sudden, your neat building starts to look lopsided and off balance.
There’s a reason the iPhone has only one button: How a tech product looks is just as important as how it functions. More visual elements add clutter, which tech consumers aren’t keen on.
- It strays from your vision.
Once in a while, step back from your product. Ask yourself: Does what you’re building still squarely target your user? Or, is it starting to ooze into another niche you never intended to address?
If a feature would force you to compromise the priorities you set when you started developing the product, skip it. Remember, you’d need to not only develop that feature, but start the project over again — including all of the market research and hiring required to compete in that space.
Stick to your priorities and your vision. Otherwise, you risk producing something that your market won’t want.
- It increases the cost to someone.
Adding features costs money. Higher production costs will need to be absorbed either in your profit margin or by the consumer’s wallet.
If you’re not sure whether your users would pay for a feature, ask them. Reach out to a few members of your target audience. Poll them on how much more they’d be willing to spend for a product with the feature you’re considering.
Consider, too, the paradox of choice. That is, that more features might attract more lookers, but fewer features garner more sales.
Known as “feature fatigue,” this consumer quirk has been studied extensively. In short:
- Consumers tend to buy products with the most features;
- When given the chance to pick all the additional features they want, consumers pile them on; but,
- Consumer satisfaction with overly featured products tends to be low because users overestimate their ability to use them.
The bottom line is, consumers ultimately prefer a product with fewer features. Make sure each one you add is worth it.
- It makes things complicated.
Remember the typewriter keyboard? You could type uppercase letters, numbers, and a few symbols. The lonely “shift” key doubled the capacity of the keyboard.
Some computer keyboards have more keys, but all can produce even more with the “control,” “option,” and “command” keys. Users can now type more characters and employ more functions — but it has complicated the keyboard. And few people use all of these functions.
Does that feature you want to add to your product mean a button that was designed to have one function now has two or more? If those functions are going to be difficult for the user to remember, reconsider. Don’t expect customers to break out the manual every time they use your product. They’ll just buy one that’s less complicated.
“Keep it simple, stupid” was coined by a wise engineer. It’s a design principal worth remembering.
- It creates a need for more features.
The wrong feature can be a Pandora’s box. If you add customer profiles to your project management tool, for example, what about all the other features that your typical CRM user has come to expect?
There’s nothing wrong with realizing a certain feature is important in your niche. But if one would cause you to open up a whole new can of worms, it’s a bad sign. Either you’re losing sight of your niche, or you need a better way to compete in your current one.
Expect some changes along the way as you develop your tech product. You may well be right that you need a certain feature. Perhaps it makes the product more functional, easier to use, more attractive, or more marketable.
Adding features for the sake of adding features, however, is never a good idea. Doing so will weaken your product and in the end, consumers won’t come back for more. They just might, however, come back for less.