The end of the Feature Economy

After buying my first Mac last year and switching from using free Linux software to paying for software for the first time in a decade, I quickly started to appreciate the quality and how beautiful these apps made by independent developers were. After chatting with my other friends who had switched, I discovered this had happened to them as well. Not after long, simple and beautiful software filled up my computer, and my workflow.

By switching to using only really simple software, I might have done something stupid.

I’ve forgotten about features. I’ve forgotten about features in the sense that I don’t know why anyone would think that they are a good thing anymore.

One year into my obsession with finding the simplest and best applications, I have managed to find the best tools available for the work I do. The problem is now when someone shows me powerful software, or when they passionately tell me about all the things their software can do… it doesn’t register.

How they can stand all that stuff?

When I look back at the sort of stuff I put up with on a daily basis, I notice just how much of it now turns me off:

  • Rich text formatting
  • Columns
  • Tables
  • Toolbars
  • Menus
  • Submenus
  • Dialogues
  • Splash screens
  • Loading
  • Waiting
  • No keyboard shortcuts
  • Complicated syncing (aka not Dropbox)
  • Things without web and mobile clients
  • Things that are slow

When I come across anything on that list I have one of two thoughts:

“How do I use this?”

Followed up by,

“Why the heck would anyone use this?”

The thing that ruins software more often than anything else is the complexity and slowness introduced by adding features.

When I think about it and picture it, in the lab, developers and business managers arguing for features can back up their reasoning. For each and every added feature, they can point to its value with a use case, no matter how much of an edge case that use case is. Anyone arguing for simpler user experiences doesn’t have as easy a task and can’t show immediate value on the same case by case basis.

One way features transform from looking like a good idea in the lab, to complicated software is because the people designing the software forget about the context that users live in. They forget that users only use software in the context of the world around them. (This is the sort of thing that can be fixed by going out into the field and observing users in their lives.)

Whether at home, school, or work, wherever people use software, the problems people have and their commitments take up a lot of their attention. If you also take into consideration the distraction people face in trying to do work that’s challenging, the truth is that it’s easier to conceive of, and to sell people shortcuts.

Software should help people accomplish the whole of their work.

A quote on appropriateness:

“I think the most important thing to recognize is that we’re now living in a world of excess. Excess data, excess access, excess “stuff.” Our behavior and mindset should change accordingly. The discussions we have should not be about consuming less or having more, but rather “What is better?” and “What is appropriate?” – Frank Chimero – Your Shit, My Stuff, Goldilocks, and Making the Bed You Sleep In

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