Product Features When is too Many too Much

Ben Groulx
Feb 17, 2014

Last week, Editorially, a browser-based collaborative writing tool, announced they were closing their doors. I love(d) using the text editor -- it was a tool I used on a nearly daily basis. Their announcement stated "Editorially has failed to attract enough users to be sustainable" which is an unfortunate, yet understandable, situation.

Loyal Fanbase

I was saddened to hear about the tool's end, and apparently I wasn't the only one. Editorially had an incredibly loyal fanbase that was satisfied with the product because it presented a wonderful solution to an otherwise complex problem (collaborative writing). The seamless bridging of two worlds -- writing and editing -- was made possible due to a simple workflow with uncomplicated components. It was one of their greatest strengths: finding the balance of features required for the process.

Less is Often More

Many products and services offer too much; there is a notion that addition equates to satisfaction: "The customer is happy with what we have, therefore if we add more, their happiness will also be more!" It's crude but common.

Customer Satisfaction

But customer satisfaction does not fluctuate congruently; bells and whistles do not a happy customer make. There is a certain point where an overabundance of features will be ineffective, where no amount of order and organization will rescue it. Options, especially if not presented in a properly designed manner, can quickly overwhelm customers and cause confusion and discontent.

Offer Something of Service, Nothing More

Products and services should offer a set of features that facilitate a certain process, and nothing more. "You can't be everything to everyone" is advice usually given on a personal level, but it is also true for products. This is why we do audience research, persona development, and user experience design: to identify specific groups of people with targeted pain points and formulate solutions that can alleviate these problems. The best tools and services we use on a daily basis are the ones that solve something for us, whether it's better, faster, easier, or more useful. (Of course, it can go the other way as well: a surplus of specificity will not be useful to a large enough population.)

Customer satisfaction -- Where to be


Editorially hit that sweet spot of being feature-rich, but not too complex. Their dedication to a single dilemma was distinct, intended, and, most importantly, it worked. As such the service was a beacon of proper design. Design is not about providing something pretty, but something useful.

When thinking about your clients and customers, take a step back and note the things you can strip away instead of the ones you can add. Yes, less is more. 

(Note: this article refers to Editorially in the past tense -- was, had, etc. -- yet it is still operational until May 30. You can read more about the service in their blog post: Goodbye.)

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