May 14, 2006
Get lean. Stay hungry.
“The old Jetta was trim and compact, with chunky good proportions. The new one — 5.7 inches longer — is so big and amorphous they should have called it Jetta the Hutt. Every manufacturer engages in this incremental generation-to-generation size creep, and if it keeps up, eventually Shriners will drive 1996 Buick Roadmasters and we’ll laugh at their comical little cars from the observation decks of our Subaru Imprezas. Somebody, stop the madness.”
– The NY Times auto section*
The same could be said about a lot of modern software, of course, and a decent backlash is underway. Throw a dead cat & you’ll hit some manifesto or other talking about how features don’t matter, shouldn’t be added, etc.**
Why is that? A few things come to mind:
- Packing in tons of features makes software take forever to load, and/or makes it run slowly and consume tons of resources. Therefore everyone is penalized by stuff they’ll never use.
- The existence of unused features makes it harder to get at the small percentage you actually care about. Locating the right command is like finding a needle in a stack of needles.
- Being presented with a wall of options (especially if the previous set wasn’t well understood) makes people feel inadequate. The percentage anyone comprehends grows smaller as the app grows more vast.
- New features give the impression of a neverending, ever longer learning curve. Rather than make things simpler, they risk adding confusion and redundancy, fatiguing the people they’re supposed to help.
If this is all true, then aren’t the critics right? Yes–if it’s true. But what if it weren’t? What if:
- New software booted up faster than its predecessor on the same machine?
- It ran faster, felt smoother, and produced better results, without requiring any additional learning from users?
- The interface could grow simpler, more focused, more relevant to your needs (and your needs only)?
In short, if you could take away the pain that comes with a large and growing feature set, yet keep its benefits, would it cool the critics out? Would we then have permission (or blessings, even) to add whole new levels of power and capability?
As you might guess, we’re thinking about these issues all the time. In my view we need to define a fairly rigorous “Contract with the Customer” to ensure that before we move on to adding new layers of richness, we do the hard work of addressing the problems mentioned above.
We need your permission to take Photoshop in new directions, to add features that will blow people’s heads clean off. And to earn that permission, we need to show that we’re nailing the fundamentals. It’s not going to be an overnight thing, but I think we’re on the right track.
* VW can always take solace in having possibly the coolest parking structure ever. Oh, and once again, a fistful of great ads.
** To me, though, these critiques ring a little hollow–not unlike the great Onion article, “Report: 98 Percent Of U.S. Commuters Favor Public Transportation For Others.” That is, to some extent the critics are saying, Don’t add anything for anyone except me, that I personally don’t need right now.