Why Products Suck #10: Product Hygiene is Ignored

Tenth in an ongoing series of Why Products Suck (and what we can do about it).

When designers and engineers refer to “hygiene,” they are usually not referring to their grooming habits. Instead, they are talking about the basic tasks that users expect a product in a category to be able to do. We expect refrigerators to keep food cold. We expect banking websites to let us check our account balances. We assume that a word processing program will let us print documents.

The problem arises when, in the quest for more features, hygiene is ignored. Basic activities are ignored, or the product is sluggish and unresponsive. We have to make sure the Buddha Nature of the product is protected. The product should do the simple tasks it is supposed to do as well as possible.

No company is safe from this issue. The vaunted iPhone isn’t a particularly good phone (nor, arguably, good for sending texts).

Hygiene is just one area where the technology and engineering affect the user experience. Reliability and responsiveness are basic qualities that have to come before any additional features be piled on. (And then, of course, checked again.)

Testing the product with users in the context of use, and especially longitudinal studies, will reveal issues with reliability over time. A ruthless adherence to the known, basic laws of responsiveness is also required.

No matter how many additional features a product has, no matter how beautiful its form and interface, the product that can’t do its basic functions has got to suck.