In today’s post, Aza Raskin responds to a reader’s question regarding Featuritis, Feature Bloat, and Clutter.
Be sure to read our other interviews in our leadership series.
One of the problems I observe frequently is that web sites with otherwise intelligent product managers and designers seem to have a cumulative UI habit tending toward clutter, user confusion and stress. In other words, each great new feature added to a site requires its own breathing room and consumes space; so other elements are rearranged and shrunken down to make room for the new tenant on the page or, in an even worse accommodation, a new tab or completely separate offshoot is created in the site navigation structure to accommodate the new feature. It seems to me that a much smarter approach would be to acknowledge the value of simplicity and focus and decide that something must be removed when a new something is added (kind of like some moms who tell their children each Christmas that they need to give away some of their toys to make room for the new ones) — but how do you build a culture of continual reduction and focus rather than continual expansion and bloat in building an ever-evolving web UI?
There is a constant tension between making a website that is simple; a website that does a few things, and does them well; versus making a website that attempts to pander to the long tail of all things that Internet surfers want to do. The later is somewhat untenable and the former ignores user’s needs. As is always the case, the game is in finding the right balance.
I agree with you that it is good to perform spring cleaning on your website. Otherwise, you end up with a conglomerate of cruft: A modern city built on top of the remains of an medieval city, built on top of the remains of a Roman city.
There is another way of looking at the problem. Instead of just adding a new feature, you can attempt to figure out a unifying mechanism by which your new feature and older features can be unified. For instance, when working on designing the Humanized Reader, we spent a lot of time working on how to unify the archive feature and the filtering feature. Eventually, we came up with the solution by extending the “scroll down means go back in time” metaphor to actually load new content in the first case, and through a form of structured search in the second.
I call it the “find the hammer that makes the most features look like nails” approach.
How do you create a culture of continual reduction? That’s perhaps even harder. Besides having small teams as I mention above, I might recommend having everyone on the team do at least a week of front-line customer support and user testing. We do this at Humanized. Being in the trenches; dealing and working with customers; really reshapes the way you think about the effect of cluttered and kludgy interfaces.
Other articles in the “Ask Aza Raskin” Series: