Sunday, May 04, 2014

What's the logical end of your product?

Simplify, even when the natural inclination is to keep expanding.
This quote I read somewhere recently has made a profound effect on me. It's something that I always believed in but just that I didn't know how to express it in words. As a product designer I believe that my job is to design software solutions that will simplify human lives. The more simpler the solution is, the more it would simplify lives. In today's world we have a lot of things craving for our attention and they all keep us busy. Our attention span is on an all time low while dividing our time among all of them. Thats why it's important to make products focus on doing smaller things the most easiest way possible. This doesn't mean all complex problems should be ignored. What it only means is that someone who is in need of a simple solution need not understand and use a bloated solution that can also solve the simple problem. Simple solutions have a value of their own. It need not become complex to become more valuable. Thats why we should be clear about the the logical end of the product we are designing.

Whenever I design products, I try to also define what the product should not be. That way I make it clear that what exactly are we solving and who we are going after. So does that mean when the product is developed as per design, our job is over? No. Thats when we have to start seeing if the product can further simplified to make things easier. Of course the product has to undergo changes in order to keep up with the times. But it never should go beyond its original soul or the logical end, as I call it.

The best example I think of in order to make myself understand this philosophy is Cars. Every car made has a very specific target audience, purpose and price point. Manufacturers only add or remove things to further simplify the driving experience and also do facelifts to keep the car relevant to the times and trends but they will never transform a hatchback to a luxury sedan. Nor can I, as a user, ask the manufacturer to add a boot to my hatchback coz I like it that way.

The best example of this in the software world is the recent unbundling of the Google Drive app on mobile. This is what google says about the unbundling... make it easier for you to quickly find, edit and create documents, spreadsheets, and presentations on the go ..... Starting today, you can download new, standalone mobile apps for Docs and Sheets... Need to find a spreadsheet? Go to the Sheets app. Need to create a document? Go to the Docs app.
Foursquare also has announced that they are going to split their app into 2 serving specific functions for fewer users. Mailbox's new version added some new features that would further enhance their GTD goal and at the same time also removed some features to make it more focussed. Zomato has changed a lot to integrate social into restaurant finding and has become so much better and simpler. My favorite Cleartrip has launched more standalone products that would help people plan their trips. However I feel Cleartrip has kind of failed in further simplifying their flagship product. Even though it's still the most usable airline booking site in India, it doesn't have the simplicity it used to have once upon a time.

It's tough to understand this philosophy in software as we can easily get drawn into adding more features based on user feedback and matching competitor products. There is nothing bad about adding new features but it should only be to further simplify the way currently people use our product. Everything else is scope for another product.

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