Do you really need that feature?

Have you ever caught yourself or your team thinking; people like X, we should add X as a feature to our product. Perhaps your customers have suggested it, or marketing has identified it as a business opportunity. More features are better, right? By adding more features to a product, the navigation becomes more complex. Plus, now you have more features some customers will never use. So how do you find the sweet spot between features and focus?

Animation of famous designer Dieter Rams pointing at something off screen shrugging and saying: “This? I don’t know.”
Does your product really need that feature?

The Swiss Army Knife

Take the Swiss Army Knife. This is a great product with many features designed for survival and camping. But why is the Swiss Army Knife such a good design? Well, it does not take up much space and it offers a variety of tools in a context where no tools are available to you. Tiny scissors are better than no scissors. But would your hairdresser use the tiny scissors of the Swiss Army Knife to cut your hair? No, they would use the regular scissors or barber shears that are available to them.

Ultimately, the Swiss Army knife does a lot of things, but nothing as good as the dedicated version. But if you’re out in the wilderness surviving, you don’t want to carry around your heavy toolbox. Instead, a multitool that fits in your pocket suffices. Each tool in the knife is in some way useful and related to survival.

Context often determines the appropriateness of your feature-set.

Product entropy

Adding more and more features leads to feature bloat: a form of entropy.  Entropy is the gradual decline into disorder. Take the Swiss Army Knife again. If you add 10 more features for repairing a car engine, the knife becomes too bulky and impractical to carry or use. It is no longer a small portable multitool: it has lost its value and core proposition. Products may become disorganized when we add new features that do not support the central proposition. The product becomes worse.

Animation of a very large and impractical Swiss Army Knife, with hundreds of knifes, tools and gadgets.
Product entropy: “It’s okay, our users just need bigger pockets”

But how can you prevent product entropy? First, you need to figure out what the central proposition of your product is.  In what context is your product used? What problem are you trying you solve?  A simple method to help you is Steve Blanks’ format: we help (X) do (Y) by doing (Z).

Take a banking app for example. You’ve discovered that your customers are always on the move and need to pay fast when they’re commuting. The central proposition could be simple. “We help our customers save time by sending payments fast.” Paying via QR-codes or using Apple Pay via smartphone supports this central proposition. Features that are be harder to defend would be a photo sharing feature or having an in-app gift shop. These features aren’t bad, but you could argue that they don’t belong inside your app.

Ideas should be tested against your central proposition. Does this feature support this proposition? Is it a logical extension to the product’s core or can I do without it?

Removing is designing

As designers we like to create. It could be an extra feature to delight our customers or another flow to attract new customers. But when was the last time you removed something from your product to improve it? Not during the design phase, but after it went to production.

“I’m guessing rarely.”

Once you have a feature, it is hard to remove. The business may feel it already invested time and effort into it and now needs to invest more time to remove it. On top of that, there will always be a set of customers who like the feature. It can be a hard sell to take away a legacy feature, both to internal stakeholders and to customers. The longer you wait, the harder it is to get rid of it. Sometimes, it’s best to not have offered a feature in the first place, because it is hard to take them away once it is live.

Cutting away bloat and legacy features is tough, but it is also a form of design. By removing features, you can actually make your product better. So, here’s my challenge to you:

The next time you are thinking of adding a new feature, think about what you can simplify, stop doing, or remove from your product instead. What can you remove altogether to make your product better?

Animation of actor Bill Murray pointing at you saying: “You got this!”
You got this!

About the author

Robert A. Paauwe
Design Lead - Insurance

Robert is an experienced UX/UI designer and team lead with a strong focus on design and development of digital products and services. He is driven, methodical, a sponge for new knowledge, a real team player, and not afraid to venture into the unknown!

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