Knowing your customer – the key to successful design

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More often than not you will see features and ideas developed and implemented int0 products that serve no purpose whatsoever, they may be nifty little things such as a fingerprint scan to bypass the password on your mobile app, of they may be a peripheral port on an some electronics that serves absolutely no purpose other than being there. Why do we put them in? To make the product cooler? To make it future ready? For 5 years down the line? Most of the time, all these extra features are useless, and here’s why.

Let’s look at it this way.

  1. What real purpose do these extra features serve? And
  1. How do your customers, or how will your customers engage your product and/or service.

Often times when designing your product or service you’ll want to add in additional “doo-babs” because they’re cool, or will make your product stand out from the competition, or will allow for the eventual possibility of expansion five years down the line. But in reality, will any of this provide an added benefit or is it just some kitsch that cost you time and money to develop? And how do you know if a feature is necessary, well this second part comes down to knowing your customer.

Who is your customer, how does your customer engage the product or service – what is the value that your product or service offers your customer.

Let’s look at the mobile fingerprint concept which recently came up in conversation at an entrepreneurship meeting that I attended here in Barcelona. Sure, it’s a nifty little feature that substitutes the login/password combo of a mobile application, but what does it add in terms of functionality. Not much. But what does it take away in terms of time & resources?

Implementing a traditional login/password combo takes about 5 minutes worth of work, fingerprint recognition, in all likelihood a bit more – in fact probably a lot more.

The time that it took the programmer to develop the fingerprint recognition would have been better spent working on a core function of the software or making sure that the software is bug free, and if that had already been completed then time to market would have been decreased. Lower time to market, the quicker your company starts earning ducats.

Just because a feature may seem “cool”, it’s not necessarily a key component. Will something like a fingerprint password scan make the customer use your product over your competitions? Personal privacy issues aside, probably not.

What will make them use it over the other is the value it offers. Software developers often go beyond themselves and develop really cool but really useless technologies – i.e. aforementioned fingerprint login. But logins and fingerprints aside, they’ll often develop feature heavy applications where the end user will simply want a stripper down version. Meaning, the end user will typically not engage a phone for more than 15 seconds – aside from a flight, a bus ride, or a few hops on the metro. They want their info, they get their info, and they exit the application.Wham, bam, thank you ma’am. A good example of a stripped down version of a software is 37 signals – all they provide are the basics, and leave the hoopla out of it.

By developing 50,000 features into that application that are for the most part an unnecessary expenditure, you’re wasting money, resources, and time, but more importantly you’re not thinking how the customer will use your product.

At the end of the day successful design is not about “cool” but about “functionality” and that applies to anything from mobile applications, to chairs, and cars – and once that functionality is in there, well then you can add in the cool.

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