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Coping With The Features Conundrum

Presenting too many features to users is recognized as a problem in the age of the user experience. According to Adreas Pfeiffer in an article titled “Features Don’t Matter Anymore“, what users really want is simplicity, not features. This can be a real challenge for libraries seeking to design a better user experience because many of our resources are feature laden products that ultimately overwhelm and confuse the end user – a definite problem in the age of user experience.

In a new article by James Surowiecki, of wisdom of the crowd fame, he discusses what I would call the features conundrum. In an article titled “Feature Presentation” he explores the difficulties of meeting consumer expectations. The challenge is that “although consumers find overloaded gadgets unmanageable, they also find them attractive.” When given choices of varying products consumers will go for the ones with the most features. It appears they want to have their cake (features) and eat it too (simplicity).

But here’s something of interest for librarians who want to provide better user experiences. Surowiecki writes that “as buyers, users want all the bells and whistles, but as users they want something clear and simple.” So since we work with “users’ rather than “buyers” it may be that our focus should be on simplicity rather than the features. Or we may need to strategically identify features that have value that will be immediately obvious to users. Whatever we do and whatever balance we may try to create in developing a better library user experience, it just may be that “even when you give consumers what they want they can still end up hating you for it.”


Comment from Theresa
Posted: June 1, 2007 at 1:52 pm

Great post! i agree with this perspective on the user experience. In my short presence in a public linrary, I have found that users want is simple service. They don’t need “features”. Librarians should follow the KISS method of life.

Comment from Darlene Fichter
Posted: June 27, 2007 at 1:29 am

I think there is a features conundrum. It’s easy to say that a site should be simple and easy to use, but for whom? The expectations and the features considered essential and useful by one group are considered unnecessary by another group. All users are not equal.

I also don’t know if it’s the number of features that are the major issue but how and when they’re presented to the users and in what way.

I think the biggest challenge libraries face isn’t simplifying interfaces (although we have work to do there for sure) but getting our users our of “P” mode or default mode. How often do you meet a library user passionate about maximizing their use of the library interfaces? Do we inspire them to learn?

This is something Kathy Sierra, at Creating Passionate Users, posted eloquently about here

Are your users stuck in “P” mode?

and here

The hi-res user experience

I think about systems or programs where I start off using one or two features like the DVR or email program or social software site and I stay at that level using the “default” mode and which ones do I learn more and more about and have a “highres” user experience. For example with Flickr, I clearly got out of default mode pretty quickly and continued to learn stuff. Other sites I stay pretty much in P mode (usually do to frustration with the time it takes to do what I consider “simple” things.)

Designing simple is darn difficult.

Comment from stevenb
Posted: June 27, 2007 at 12:06 pm

Thanks for sharing those CPU links Darlene. I agree that some of the CPU posts on developing passion among users are well worth reading. It got me to thinking that it is critical to engaging them in features that can really be of benefit to them. I covered similar territory in posts over at ACRLog (after being inspired by CPU). Here is a link to one of them:

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