15 May 2006

Defeating feature fatigue [Harvard Business Review]

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A mouse pad that's also a clock, calculator and fm radio
“Consider a coffeemaker that offers 12 drink options, a car with more than 700 features on the dashboard, and a mouse pad that’s also a clock, calculator and FM radio. All are examples of “feature bloat,” or “featuritis,” the result of an almost irresistible temptation to load products with lots of bells and whistles,” writes the Harvard Business Review.

“The problem is that the more features a product boasts, the harder it is to use. Manufacturers that increase a product’s capability–the number of useful functions it can perform–at the expense of its usability are exposing their customers to feature fatigue.”

The authors of the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business “have conducted three studies to gain a better understanding of how consumers weigh a product’s capability relative to its usability. They found that even though consumers know that products with more features are harder to use, they initially choose high-feature models. They also pile on more features when given the chance to customize a product for their needs. Once consumers have actually worked with a product, however, usability starts to matter more to them than capability.”

“For managers in consumer products companies, these findings present a dilemma: Should they maximize initial sales by designing high-feature models, which consumers consistently choose, or should they limit the number of features to enhance the lifetime value of their customers?”

“The authors’ analytical model guides companies toward a happy middle ground: maximizing the net present value of the typical customer’s profit stream. The authors also advise companies to build simpler products, help consumers learn which products suit their needs, develop products that do one thing very well, and design market research in which consumers use actual products or prototypes.”

Go to abstract page (where you can purchase a pdf of the 11 page study)

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