Part VII in an ongoing series of Why Products Suck (and what we can do about it).
All products should have one task they are best at, whether it be cleaning dishes, sending Tweets, or listening to music. If that central task is so over-encumbered by features that make the task too complicated to do, or the task is constantly being interrupted by other non-essential functions, or the product has so many useless functions that you cannot tell what it is even supposed to be, that product sucks.
Products need a Buddha Nature, one that isn’t smothered in “value-added” features.
Now, granted, people love features. We enjoy comparing products side-by-side and choosing the one with seemingly the best (which usually means the most) features. Companies love features, too. It gives them something to easily market and often allows them to simply replicate what their competitors are doing without having to come up with real differentiators. But features alone are a poor long-term strategy because they are eventually (sometimes rapidly) replicated.
James Surowiecki points out the feature paradox in a New Yorker article:
“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.”
Users want to feel that they are getting value for their
money (or time spent), and in lieu of other feelings—desire, joy, playfulness, luxury, and so on—people will turn to power, possibly out of fear. The feature list makes users feel more comfortable with their choice…at least initially.
Instead of adding non-core features, companies should be focused on ruthlessly making the central task the best it can be. There is almost always room for improvement, and if you don’t believe that, you probably haven’t been testing enough or doing any field research to uncover customer’s behaviors and unmet needs. If another feature is becoming prominent to the product, perhaps it is time to create another product for that core task.
The features of a product should support the story of the product, not drive it. Products need to demonstrate their differentiators clearly: I’m what you need because there is nothing else like me on the market. I do this one task better than anyone else.
Most products don’t do this, which is why they suck.