When developing a new product, rarely does your initial design idea not end up significantly altered and re-imagined by the time it hits the store.
It’s just the nature of the process, and hardly surprising when we consider the many challenges faced and opportunities uncovered along the way.
But ‘feature creep‘ is a problem we can fall foul of, so what is it, and how can we avoid it?
What is feature creep?
Often one of the traps that we can all fall prey to from this highly changeable new product development process is something called Feature Creep, and it’s certainly one to watch for. Wikipedia defines Feature Creep like so:
[The feature creep principle is] the excessive ongoing expansion or addition of new features in a product, especially in computer software, videogames, and consumer electronics.
How to avoid it: Product Scope
How to prevent feature creep? A good place to start bringing control to your process is a well-defined product scope. From the outset, having a very clear definition of core functionality, and what makes the product compelling to the consumer, can be tremendously useful. If we are not careful and do not understand what we are trying to deliver, we can easily fall into the trap of an overly complex design packed with features that the consumer doesn’t care about, that you can’t communicate clearly with your customer, that costs too much, and is tremendously difficult to deliver.
I like the mantra: ‘A product well defined is a product half sold,’ and it seems to fit regardless of whether you are designing a medical device, a few consumer electronics, or a kids toy…
Know Your Audience
Know your audience and know what their expectations are… this is the first rule to prevent the pitfalls of feature creep that can result in a bloated feature set, over-complication and, ultimately, additional cost and time in development. Understand what is important to them and check in on this regularly to make sure you are delivering something that the consumer will find compelling.
If, however, you are designing something that is truly new and innovative ,then maybe your target consumer has no expectations at all. If this is the case, try a different approach.
Try describing your product in one or possibly two sentences to someone who has never seen or heard of your idea. Sounds easy right? But this can often be curiously difficult to do.
Anything that doesn’t make it into this description needs to be looked at carefully to ensure that you aren’t chasing features that don’t make your product more compelling and do little to influence the purchasing decision.
Anything more than 2 or 3 killer features then you should be careful that you are not trying to deliver more than the consumer wants and you are not getting bang for your buck in the eyes of the consumer – very often, less, done well, is more.
A helpful idea when scoping out your idea is again borrowed from the Agile Software movement: the Minimum Viable Product, or MVP. When we define the MVP we strip back an idea in an attempt to understand the essence of the concept, what are the killer features without which the product idea no longer stacks up?
It can be quite uncomfortable for product designers to think like this. Understanding what is ‘enough’ can feel like underachieving, after all, to be a great designer means to be an optimist who constantly strives for aesthetic and functional perfection in everything that we create. But understanding the MVP will at the very least allow you to know how far you are delivering beyond what is needed, and this in itself is a useful exercise. It may after all be part of your brand to surprise and delight your customer beyond their expectations. But never forget the age-old maxim that ‘less is more.’
Have your say…
Is less more in your products? How do you avoid feature creep? Let us know by commenting with your thoughts.
Contributed by Andy Bartlett, a UK-based new product development expert with a deep experience in toys. Several of our clients have worked with Andy with good results.
Product Design Manager at Worlds Apart for 14 years.
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