By Bob Walsh
Matt over 37signals.com has a great post out about the dangers of feature fatigue — whether you should aim to please your prospective customer loads of features and capabilities, or make their life easier once you they’ve bought your product. Here’s a quote from the Smith School of Business at the University of Maryland study:

Because consumers give more weight to capability and less weight to usability before relative to after use, consumers tend to choose overly complex products that do not maximize their satisfaction when using them, resulting in “feature fatigue.”

For micro-ISVs this is a particularly thorny place to go. We don’t have the time or luxury to add every conceivable bell and whistle feature and capability to our products: we need to generate revenue. On the other hand, if you leave too many features out when you initially release, no one’s going to care about your application or website.
Sometimes if you take two problems and rub them together they will solve each other. The other problem to rub up against the one mentioned above is the desire by everybody to customize everything about their lives and especially the things they own. Be it cute little covers for their iPods, your desired themes and extensions in Firefox, or racing stripes on your red Mini convertible, people want to individualize their tools. by individualizing their tools, they internalize the uses and if ordinances of those tools. No one wants to be fitted into a mold, we want our tools to mold around our hands and our needs online.
I’d like to suggest to my fellow micro-ISVs that by giving our customers the ability to customize which features are most visible we can solve both these problems. No, I’m not talking about Microsoft’s hopelessly lame adaptive menus which I automatically turn off each and every time I have to reinstall Office; I’m talking about giving your customers an easy interface to let them decide how complex your micro-ISV application should appear to them. this is the user interface idea of discovery — of having features in your application that the user can discover for themselves when they need those features.
Instead of hoping that your customer discovers your nifty neat feature, why not put it to them frankly? Say via your user interface, “this app can do XY and Z, which is a little more complicated than a AB and C. Do you want to?”
Haven’t you wished for a little slider control in Microsoft Word or Adobe Photoshop that would let you set how complex or simple that application is for you? I think that by giving customers the ability to customize your application once they know what they want to do with it (and a surefire way to bring these hidden features back from the dead) could be an excellent strategy for making your micro-ISV application stand out.
Now before someone points out that my particular micro-ISVs product does no such thing, let me say that this is a case of live and learn. I for one intend to toss out Microsoft’s shopworn propaganda that all applications in the world should look like Microsoft Office, act like Microsoft Office, and be more to no more inventive or easier to use than Microsoft Office as I go forward with the next major version of my micro-ISV’s app.
You’ll find Matt’s post here, the original study over here and another good post over here about the study.
[tags]feature fatigue, UI Interface, 37signals[/tags]

1 Comment

  1. Yes, but you need to be carefull to not force users into making all these decisions such as feature “A” yes or no – so now the user needs to understand what “A” is to know if he needs it or not. As an example I think having 3 or four full pages of “configuration” during installation is a very bad idea.

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