The Value of Simplicity in Business Software

team_petri by

For years, video game developers assumed that more lifelike graphics and more complicated game play always meant a better product. The industry seemed locked in an ever-increasing sprawl of complexity, with rising development cycles, and bulkier, more immersive games. Big studios like Electronic Arts and Take Two Interactive thrived in this environment as the only companies with the depth of talent to pull off such a complex product.

At some point in the last five years, the customer reached a tipping point. Driven by the success of relatively light mobile games, the industry has wet the consumer appetite for the same light games on social platforms as well. Not everyone wants to read a manual and battle the learning curve that comes with EA’s latest waterfall game. Angry Birds is fun, too.

While this same revolution hasn’t yet taken place in business software, it shouldn’t be far behind.

As with video games, the end users of enterprise software don’t always understand the value of simplicity until they try it out for themselves, and the landscape is currently dominated by feature-rich giants. Once a user is used to navigating around these complicated products and ignoring most of their features, it isn’t such a big deal. But given the option to switch to a simpler, more intuitive product, my bet is a considerable portion will take that option.

As a demonstration of the damage an unnecessary feature can do to your product, take a peripheral feature that is used by 5% of your customers. Under the current paradigm of business software, that feature would probably be considered a success. Take it away, and you could risk losing 5% of your user base.

But that line of thinking doesn’t consider the hidden cost of making the product unnecessarily complex for the 19 out of 20 customers that don’t have any use for the feature. For them, there’s a cost associated with learning what the feature does, deciding they don’t need it, and customizing it out of their interface. Stack a bunch of these unnecessary features on top of each other, and you’ve seriously damaged the user experience for all but a few of your customers.

In the immortal words of Jeff Goldblum’s character in Jurassic Park,

Your [software developers] were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.”

So don’t add features just because you can, or because one person might use them. Balance the benefits of a new feature against the more subtle value of simplicity, even if your product is intended for businesspeople (they’re people too). And lastly, avoid genetically engineering dinosaurs unless you’re darn sure your theme park’s security system is up to the task.