No, Actually, Simpler Than That

July 10, 2012

Stop adding features. That one mantra — if followed consistently — would improve the majority of user interfaces. In terms of concrete evidence, it’s out there in droves, but I leave it to the reader to discover the truth of it. In essence, humans have a tough time finding what they need in a sea of what they don’t. The more features you add, the more the likelihood that you’re adding what the user doesn’t need at a given point in time. This guideline, as simple and intuitive as it is, is an extremely difficult pill to swallow for business that make their money selling new features.

Long before we can discuss what features to cut, or how to make money if we do, we have to first become comfortable with this inverted proportion: As number of features increases, usability decreases. No amount of hand wringing or fervent objection is going to change this fact, as it stems from the way in which the human mind functions. Rather that rail against the concept, learn to embrace it and work with it: You degrade the user experience with additional features.

Rationally then, the question should be how much do you care about degrading the user experience? If you’re honest with yourself, not much — especially if your livelihood depends on it. The world’s most successful software companies suffer from extreme feature bloat and are enormously profitable. Perhaps you care from an aesthetic standpoint, or an ideal that all user interfaces should be easy to use, but also don’t forget that you’re running a business. If at some point your business would benefit from a more usable user interface, before enlisting the help of user interface experts, look first to your feature set and trim out the 20% that go unused. You may as well — it will be the first bit of advice any user interface expert worth their salt will give you.

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I would like to point out that if we work together today, or have in the past, my opinions may or may not have been influenced by working with you. Most likely they have been, but I have to say that to avoid offending people. You're so vain. I bet you think this site is about you.