Inspiration: You've got to start with the customer experience...

You've got to start with the customer experience and work back toward the technology—not the other way around.—Steve Jobs. Have you ever helped your parents with their computers? It becomes shockingly obvious that there are too many options and too many ways to do too many things. I often find myself shaking my head, wondering, “How did you even find this?” Things that ought to be clear aren’t, and danger lies in only a couple of mouse clicks.

Perhaps it’s because we don’t really understand our customers. It’s not that those who have responsibility for technology products think more options is better; it’s that we don’t know which to include and which to omit.

How often do you hear (or think), “I’m not sure which is best, so let’s include both.”

I have a periodic battle over the options on my iPhone account. Every time I upgrade, something breaks; something that used to work doesn’t. The last time, I lost visual voicemail. The result—after 30 minutes of messing with it—is there are two option settings “visual voicemail ON” and “visual voicemail OFF.” The poor guy at the store probably sees something like on the screen:

visual voicem… visual voicem…

And I suspect these two options are listed alphabetically; OFF comes before ON. Since he couldn’t see the full name of each option, he chose the first one, and turned OFF this option.

Who doesn’t want this option?

“Well, somebody might not want it turned on.”

Who is this “somebody” we’re talking about?

Products designed for everyone (or someone) don’t really meet the needs of anyone.

If you find yourself guessing which option to include or omit, it’s time to interview some customers. The more you understand them, the more you’ll see that they’re probably not the power users that your product team expects them to be. Jack Trout wrote, “Complexity is not to be admired. It is to be avoided.”


(If you need help interviewing clients, see my new article series, Interviewing clients: a field guide)