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Feature Bloat and Usability

Posted by Jacob Creech on September 5th, 2011

This week I came across a really interesting blog post on the Contrast Blog talking about Swiss Army Knives in web design. That is to say, sites trying to pack 101 different features in to one site or app.

We’ve recently been in the market for a new CRM option (still taking suggestions on that front if you’ve got one), and can safely say that a great many CRM services suffer from this issue. Many of these services have clearly gone well past that stage of core development and are now adding a range of ‘nice to have’ (often not really necessary) features.

On the flipside, many of the services we’ve been looking at haven’t met would we’d consider the core functionality of a CRM service, i.e. keeping track of and facilitating customer relationships.

What features should you add?

What makes the people the build these tools add the things that aren’t of much value before the things that are? What method should people use for prioritization?

They’ve got a great chart on the Contrast blog which is definitely worth checking out – I’ve done a quick sketch below:

Choosing features

Choosing features

The idea is that the features on the top right – the features all of the people use all of the time are the most important features to have – which makes perfect sense, but people often don’t seem to follow this logic. The further you move in either direction (either less of the people, or less of the time), the less important the feature is and the less you should consider adding it.

The same problem exists in web design; I’ve lost track of all the sites that think they should include a million and one different navigation items, a million and one different social sharing buttons, or a million and one of anything else.

Do we need this many options?

Do you need this many options?

How do we decide what features to add?

Looking at our own example, with IntuitionHQ every feature or change that we consider, we try and see where it would fit in that chart – will the features be useful for everyone? Will they add value to the service for our users?

We are always looking for seamless features that improve the user experience without actually taking much thought or effort from the user. We want features that are useful, magical and delightful.

What that means is that we may not have all the features of our competitors, but what we do, we do well. This follows on nicely from the Scrum development principles that we adhere to at IntuitionHQ – it’s better to have 80% of the features 100% complete, than 100% of the features 80% complete. It’s better to have a product that does what it does extremely well, than a product that does a whole range of things to mediocre standard.

So, what next?

If you haven’t yet, go and check out the post on the Contrast blog. We’d your experience on choosing features for your products or services. What do you focus on? Any features you think we should be working on? Be sure to let us know in the comments below.

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Thanks for dropping by.

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  • Dave

    I agree with your general point, but it feels awkward to use an image of Microsoft’s website navigation here. The size of their company and product line is on a different scale from what the vast majority of developers will work with; in the particular case you show, yes, it is a good idea to have that many options listed.