Tag Archives: product design

Don’t add features to make products successful – instead remove complexity

Adding new features to products and services will not help them be successful if this is at the expense of simplicity. Instead of simplicity you may be able to substitute the words beauty or usability, but the core point remains. If you want to add new features, then these need to be added without ruining the core values and functions of the product.

  • A new feature should never ruin the beauty of a product
  • Additional complexity should not make the product harder to use.

The temptation to add that one extra feature, is always going to be there. The demand for new features though needs to be balanced with the drive for simplicity.

Simplicity matters, because at the heart of simplicity is customer focus.

By demanding simplicity, you drive a focus on what is important to the customer. Instead of adding every feature you can, allowing every possible combination, put yourelf in the shoes of the customer and make a choice for them about what matters most. In doing so you reduce complexity for both the customer and you as the supplier. More importantly, you take responsibility for the product. You cannot hide behind always saying yes. YOU need to understand what matters most to customers and be excellent at this. Feature bloat means mediocrity. Allowing limitless options, but allowing customers to make poor choices is not a good strategy. Take responsibility and help your customer. Don’t sell them what isn’t needed. Don’t add features they will never use and don’t change something because you simply want to make your mark on an established product line.

Deliver what will best deliver the outcome that the customer wants.

Not all customers will be happy, some will demand features that were not included or options that are not available. This is inevitable when you seek simplicity. The goal is not to make everyone happy. The goal is is to exceed the expectations of your target customers; to make the customers that YOU want very happy with your product. In defining the customers that you want to sell to you need to make a choice. Successful products don’t seek to sell to the whole market. They may end up doing this and have wide appeal, but successful products start by having a target customer and being the best choice for that customer, then growing and improving.

It doesn’t matter whether the product is luxury or commodity, high or low price. The same principles apply:

  • Know your market [specifically define who it is AND who it isn’t] then design to meet their needs
  • Don’t add features they don’t want or value – never play the more is better game without validating this with customers first. Likewise don’t ignore clear demands for new features – but in adding these, add to the experience not ruin it
  • Be careful about changing the fundamentals of your product. Do this with extreme care and only after extensive testing

Extensive testing doesn’t just mean rigorous scientific sampling. It can do, but what is most important is talking to your customers. Talking to them about what they love, what they don’t like and more importantly about what they want to do, but cannot.

Your most powerful question, ‘who wants this?

Your second most powerful question, ‘why?

Your most powerful word, ‘no

Your most powerful tool, the red pen of deletion

Don’t be fooled into thinking this is easy. It isn’t. The stories about getting this wrong haunt every product manager, but the stories about getting this right should equally inspire. Building a simple product, a simple product or service gives you a great platform on which to grow a long term future. In fact it is hard to think of market leading products and even companies that have not embedded the principles of simplicity and brilliant balancing of function and form.

Get this wrong. Launch a bad product or service, particularly in the early years, and you may never be able to recover from this.

Apple is always the classic case study to show success, and its focus prioritising design and user experience shows why, but other companies equally deliver simplicity – whether at the high or low end of a market.

  • Sharpie pens vs. Mont Blanc
  • Uniclo vs. Arcteryx
  • Premier Inn vs. Four Seasons
  • Mini vs. Ferrari
  • Southwest Airlines vs. Virgin Atlantic

Looking at the list it is also clear that simplicity is intrinsically linked with customer experience and quality. These are connected. They always are. It all comes back to customer focus. Driving simplicity forces you to remove what is NOT needed, what reduces value and what makes life harder for the customer.

One final point for those who are going to drive for simplicity. Be patient. What you are proposing is not a product change, but a culture change. Technical teams will challenge you and demand complexity. Sales teams will highlight every micro-feature that the competition has and push you to replicate this. Listen, then speak to the group who really matter – your customers. Evidence from this group is what really matters and trumps everybody else every time.

Simple really.

 

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How to win against Apple, think small not big

How do you beat Apple?

Product Manager Test

A quick test for would-be Product Managers faced with developing a product to beat Apple:

Insert the missing word:

If we made our product _______ we could beat Apple‘.

  • faster
  • cheaper
  • smaller
  • bigger
  • lighter
or any other feature you can pick …
If only we could find that one chink in Apple’s armour, that one thing that we could do better, then we could win‘.
There is only one problem with this approach.
It doesn’t work.
To understand why, we need to look go back to a business truism.
>> You can’t be hip and cool if you’re just like everyone else.

Agreed, this is business 101, because if you are like everyone else your product is not differentiated and you can only demand commodity prices. There are whole books on this subject, but the basic premise holds.

But Apple is not like everyone else. 

Everyone else is like Apple. Or at least trying to be.

Apple sets the standard in whole range of areas. 

  • The benchmark for a tablet is the iPad, not any of the 100+ replicas
  • The iPhone is the standard that new smartphones are compared to
  • Macbook product engineering quality is unmatched by any competitor
  • ….
And this is not just about the physical product …
  • Apple stores have the highest revenue per square foot of any retailer
  • No technology company comes close to understanding the unboxing experience
  • The integration of iTunes and content is unsurpassed by any rival service
Apple didn’t just build a better mousetrap, it redefined catching mice.
Yes, the mousetrap is better, but it is much more than that.

Apple changed the game.

It innovated (in a whole range of areas, not just the device, but the manufacturing as well), protected its intellectual property and established tightly integrated (and hard to copy) value chains. The iPhone and iPad are clear leaders in terms of revenue and profit by a long way over competitors. This revenue then provides a virtuous circle to continue R&D investment and innovate in areas competitors cannot afford (e.g. manufacturing and engineering) – not to mention out-market competitors. This success then brings its own network effects outside of Apple.

It takes time to get this right, but when this flywheel gets spinning, you have a very effective money making machine.

On top of this, Apple have high levels of customer satisfaction, unrivalled loyalty and a world leading brand that attracts a price premium that no few competitors have been able to match.

Not bad, but this took a long time to get right. The success you see today comes from years of iterative improvement and learning.

This didn’t all happen on day 1.

The stores are a recent addition. The genius bar was not a success initially. Early products were often too expensive to achieve mass adoption, and some like the Newton were market failures. What you see now in Apple is the culmination of many years of effort, and continual improvement. This combines into a ecosystem that to many competitors seems unbeatable.

So Apple are unbeatable?

In the short term, this is incredibly challenging, but over the medium and long term business history shows us that the chance of Apple retaining its current position is not great. That is not to say that Apple may not grow, and become even bigger (with some analysts predicting $1000 Apple shares), but competitors will certainly be able to compete in some areas.

So can a company compete with Apple and win?

The short answer is yes, but think small and think agile.

You need to find one market in which you can beat Apple, one demographic/segment/scenario in which you can better meet the user needs than Apple. This is not about having one core feature that is better, but a range of features that are more attractive to the buyer than the Apple proposition. This is not just about the product, but the whole product experience.

Every product or service is a compromise. It has to be. It is a combination of trade-offs. Price vs. performance, power vs. portability, flexibility vs. usability and so on. What you need to do is find a particular group of customers where you can deliver a better combination of trade-offs for them. The end result needs to be a product or service that is more attractive than Apple. This doesn’t guarantee success, but if you do this you are better informed than the majority of technology vendors that release products to compete with Apple, but fail to differentiate in a way that users care about. More importantly, they too often focus solely on the product and not the experience, thereby missing potential areas in which they could innovate or lead.

Can you think of examples of products fall into the following categories?

  • New product is well received, but support is lousy and new customers quickly hear this and avoid the product.
  • Great sales and marketing cannot mask a product that doesn’t work as advertised.
  • Limited content or apps quickly discourage buyers who see a fail before the company does
There are loads of them, and not just from minor companies. Almost all tablets fall into this space.
World leading companies release products that are quickly judged failures, because they try and compete directly with Apple without understanding what makes Apple successful. Are you listening RIM?

It is surprising to see how many times companies make the same basic mistakes.

They continue to launch generic products to a mass market and have no success.

They launch products that miss key user features.

But there is a better way.

Instead of launching generic products to a mass market, launch GREAT experiences to a homogenous group of customers. Win these customers over, prove your product works, build your fanbase, and start the flywheel turning. The move to the next group, then the next one. However small the flywheel is, get it moving. This is always preferable to a large flywheel that will not move whatever you seem to do. However big your company is, launching a product head-on against a successful innovative market leader is rarely a smart move.

Better to smart small, win and grow.

Do not mistake starting small though with a lack of vision or ambition.

They are not the same. Your objective in launching a new product is to understand your customer needs and prove that you can meet these – both to yourself and your customers. You then improve and grow.  Your vision can be world domination, as it was with Facebook, but start small and prove that you can meet customer needs. Facebook started with students in Harvard. When it won the students there, it moved onto other Universities, then other educational establishments, then country wide, then worldwide. All along, improving, listening to customers and building on success. The focus was on adoption and market penetration. Facebook was never about 10% market share. It was always about winning in the market it wanted to play in.

5 Tips for world domination

  1. Know thy customer. Focus on the outcome that they want to achieve and the experience you deliver to enable this. Understand the whole journey. Don’t focus on excellence in one or two areas if this means other areas fail, focus on not having any major fail areas. If you don’t know these areas, spend time with your customers and understand them. Understand what their human wants and needs are. Focus on the need at this stage, then you can define the solution. HP was never going to be successful with its tablet that was priced similarly to the iPad. It wasn’t as good in key areas and in many areas was noticeably worse.
  2. Prioritise. First things first. Always. Don’t launch new features if existing bugs are losing you customers. Fix what needs fixing. Keep adding to the list, keep reviewing the prioritisation and don’t be afraid to change this. Never drop the quality bar. This was what Zappos did. Innovate the experience, never, ever drop the quality bar.
  3. Don’t over-engineer. Put in the required amount of effort and no more. You can iterate to improve later. Do what is needed, then go back to the priority list. Improve, improve, improve.
  4. Know why customers want to buy your product. Test this with them. Many will lie, so test again. Adoption is your key metric here. You need to care about how many of your prospective customers are using your product. It is not about absolute numbers, but penetration.
  5. Get the customer stories as quickly as you can. Nothing is as compelling for sales as customer success stories. Make these your priority from the start. When you talk about what your product, talk about what REAL customers actually did.

 

That should allow you to start the flywheel spinning. When you have this going, your challenge is to keep this going. Make the next steps logical and simple. No big jumps. From one University to the next, to the next. Pick adjoining markets, similar groups. Stick to the original strategy, no radical shifts. Continue to prioritise and check with customers about the satisfaction with the product. Then repeat.

How do you know when you are being successful

There is one acid test for success. The incumbent player will react to you. Whether this is a competitive reaction or an offer to buy you, you will elicit a response from them. At this point you are free to decide to continue or cash in, your call.

Consumer technology needs to enable human ambitions to be of enduring value

Consumer technology needs to enable and empower human actions and ambitions to be valuable.

If you cannot clearly articulate the human value proposition for any given technology go back to the drawing board because you have not designed useful technology but unnecessary junk. It may be functional, it may even be aesthetically pleasing, but it is still junk. If it has no clear human benefit, it is junk. The benefit may be fun, it may be practical, but it still needs to exist.

Every piece of enduring technology from the Braun alarm clock to the Hoover vacuum cleaner; from the biro pen to the iPod can be expressed in terms of human benefit.

When the value of a technology is expressed solely in self referential terms, with the product describing what has, not what it can do for people, there can be no judgement other than failure because it is unnecessary to the buyer.

Far too many technology companies set the bar too low and forget about the most important factor in the product, the person.

Not the buyer, not the user, not any one of a dozen personas, but the human.

Not a demographic, not a segment, not a persona, but a human.

They express the description in functional terms, list features and detail technical attributes.

Successful consumer products don’t focus on the function, they focus on the human value.

If you want to be successful at consumer product or service design, don’t start with what you can do, start with why someone will care.