The curse of the buttons

Just read an interesting article over at PM World Today,called “Innovation and the Curse of Knowledge”.  It deals with the topic of how so many products are over-engineered because the people that design and build them are intimately familiar with so many of the features they jam in, they assume the end users will want them as well.  Using a TV remote as an example the author, R. Max Wideman, suggests many of the buttons are on there because the engineer knew what they did, but the typical user probably won’t have a clue.

The other interesting commentary in the article suggests that intimate knowledge of a product stifles innovation.  This is very true with engineers and product managers and really anyone that follows a typical business process over and over during their daily work routine.  I remember years back hearing Tom Peter’s make a comment that many companies lament when a person retires from say the AP department.  “There goes 25 years of experience out the door”, they’ll say.  Tom’s take on that was “No, there goes 1 years experience repeated 25 times!”  Everyone tends to fall into that trap where it’s often easier to just do things the way they’ve always been done than to continually push for innovative ways to improve the process or product.

We’re no stranger to this phenomena ourselves with our products.  We do hear from customers that some of our pages and processes are a little more cumbersome than they need be, and we love to listen to this feedback.  When we’re designing a page it’s easy to fall into the trap of putting multiple buttons and links on it so the users can do whatever they want, whenever they want and from wherever they want.  With ultimate flexibility though comes complexity and often confusion.

Our goal is always to improve upon our processes and streamline whatever we can.  We want to make a typical process much easier to complete – less pages, less clicks, less time – while at the same time offering the ability to branch out when the non-typical process is called for.  So gathering that feedback from our customers is critical to the process of learning what is it that people use versus what’s superfluous on a page.  That’s the kind of experience you can’t gather from someone working 15 years with the same product.