The blog of Jon Bolt. UX, design & startups.

Compromise on features, not UX

29 Jun 2011

"Building successful products rarely happens by doing what everyone else is doing."
Joshua Porter

When designing a product, differentiate yourself from your competitors. With differentiation, you can command the price, deals are easier to close and customers become more loyal.

This doesn’t necessarily mean more – it could be less. Your design should focus on clarity, not features.

Over-designed and complex products typically stem from a 'more is better' philosophy, where value is perceived as an additive property. Increasing the feature count beyond it's required scope is perceived to increase the overall value.

Instead, you should nail the core functionality required to understand the viability of your idea, a concept called the Minimum Viable Product or MVP. The alternative, matching feature for feature with competitors, creates complexity that can kill a project before anything gets released.

Minimal features. Great UX

"The user experience simply has to be up to base standard in order to ship, no matter how trimmed down the feature is."
Ryan Singer, 37signals

Creating the minimal viable product doesn't mean you should settle for a minimum viable user experience. There's really no room or excuse to deliver a poor UX. As Loren Baxter discussed in our recent interview, UX should be a differentiator, not a compromise.

This doesn't mean only UX can make or break your product. You still need technological and 'go-to-market' capabilities. But nailing the UX will significantly increase your chances of success.

"Do one thing and do it well"
Doug McIlroy

This philosophy has been embedded in the open source world for a long time. Although not aimed at UX, it's a great fit. Your product should solve the core problems for your audience in the clearest way possible. Design the fundamental aspects of your product, but make sure you do them well.

Complex tasks are not an excuse

"To assume that a complex-looking interface means it is difficult to use disregards the goal and tasks involved that a user may require of the interface."
Francisco Inchauste

Of course, simplifying the internal complexity of features doesn't always work. A good example is financial software, where the UI is built around tasks which are inherently complex. Simplifying a UI in order to reduce it's perceived complexity could become a significant barrier for users.

However, simply because a task is complex doesn't create an excuse for designing a complex UI or user experience. We should architecture solutions around how much control is truly needed. Truly exceptional experiences are crafted when complexity is removed whilst the level of power and control is maintained.

Get the basics right

You also need to think beyond your core features to the peripheral of your design. Login, registration and changing account settings are all examples of required functionality unrelated to the core proposition of your product.

However, this is where UX is often neglected. Your customers may only interact with these functional areas occasionally, but that could result in a significant portion of your dropouts.

If people need to overcome an unwieldy sign up barrier or frustrating login process, they will never get to experience your product, no matter how great the UX is.

Wrap-up

Doing less doesn't mean you can compromise on UX, as the quality of your user experience shouldn't be dependent on the number of features you include. Instead, design each every feature, no matter how minor, to be clear and easy to use.

Also read... Design, scope and complexity

Who?

I'm Jon Bolt, Principal UX Designer at Brightpearl and creator of bagelhint. Interested in startups, design and agile.