We all know the feeling of being confronted with too many options: useless features in software programs, buttons on remote controls and VCRs, to name a few. But what happens with too many bells and whistles make you actually hate the core product?
For several years now my BMW (a 320i from 1999 with less than 54,000 km) has had a recurring problem which no one can seem to fix. It does not happen all the time, in fact it happens only sporadically. I am driving at low speeds (below 50 mph) and the car loses power and just comes to a stop. I turn the ignition, the car starts again. Why does it stop? Who knows? The local BMW repair shop can’t figure it out either. They replaced something once, another time they said they could not find what was wrong. Here’s the problem with this car and most cars today: they have become so complicated that mechanics have to hook them up to computer to figure out what to do. The electrical system, the software, the transmission and whatever they could dream of “improving” in that car have led to this level of complexity where something breaks and no one can figure out what it is, let alone fix it.
All I want is a vehicle that takes me safely from point A to point B. This car is unreliable. That’s inexcusable for something that costs a lot of money. But car manufacturers just keep adding “features” to justify the price increases every year. The customer’s real needs are irrelevant.
Yo Sushi is a sushi restaurant in London with lots of branches, one at Gatwick Airport. It’s known for the bar with a conveyor belt that goes around carrying little dishes bearing various sushi concoctions. You sit at the bar and when you see a dish go by, you pick it up if you like it. A very entertaining and quick sushi meal.
Back in 2001, all you could get was what they had on the conveyor belt, plus minor side orders such as green tea and miso soup. Today they have a thick menu that you can order from in addition to the dishes on the belt. The problem is that when people order from the menu, they expect their orders to appear promptly. But the restaurant is staffed not for this. So the last time I had lunch at Yo Sushi in Selfridges department store (London), the man sitting next to me complained to the manager that his soup and his wife’s salad failed to materialize. I had trouble getting anyone’s attention just to order green tea.
At the Gatwick Airport Yo Sushi branch, the plates were filthy and indeed, the customer sitting next to me asked to see the manager and complained loudly about reporting them to the health department.
If Yo Sushi had limited itself to providing only the dishes on the conveyor belt – no extra menu – they would have been able to handle the number of customers during busy times. And people would have been satisfied because they know that the only dishes available are those on the conveyor belt and they’d stick to eating those. As it is, Yo Sushi promises too much, and disappoints.
The biggest offenders are software companies that just keep adding more and more features to their software – not features demanded by users, just stuff they decided to throw in because well, they’re putting out version 10 so it should have additional stuff. The “features for the sake of features” mentality is so deeply engrained in the tech industry that it’s refreshing to see someone go against the tide: 37 Signals. They are a web design firm that has gone into web application development. Their online applications – Basecamp, High Rise, Campfire and Backpack – are used by thousands of people (including myself), not just web developers.
Less is more
Their book Getting Real is a must-read for all entrepreneurs. You can get it here (buy the PDF, buy the book or read it online for free). Here’s an excerpt from the introduction:
Want to build a successful web app? Then it’s time to Get Real. Getting Real is a smaller, faster, better way to build software.
- Getting Real is about skipping all the stuff that represents real (charts, graphs, boxes, arrows, schematics, wireframes, etc.) and actually building the real thing.
- Getting real is less. Less mass, less software, less features, less paperwork, less of everything that’s not essential (and most of what you think is essential actually isn’t).
Now, if only BMW and Yo Sushi had read this . . .