Most of the time when creating something new, we are confused by the no. of options. For a product, this means, what features to put in. The key method is of course, to ask the customers. But this helps in sharp definitions of what is definitely needed and what is definitely not needed. There is a gray space in between, and our natural tendency is to fill it up.
How to deal with it?
One very effective way, is to build constraints. Even if they are not explicitly required by the problem. I came across this recently. I had designed a product for entrepreneurs and accountants – for the desktop screen. It was a good, likable design, fairly fit with customer needs. Yet, it was, just, OK. There were so many things at the back of my mind which were not ‘coming out’ in the design. Ok, who am I fooling, it felt a bit like a confused mess.
Then I designed it for the iPad. And suddenly, the key features jumped at me. designing for the iPad made me think very strongly about what was the core and essence of the product, and how could I make it simple. It also helped me to remove features which were good to have, but in the end, were only confusing the users rather than empowering them.
This was how the menu looked when I was making it for the desktop:
and this is the transformation when I made it for the iPad:
The experience of simplicity was almost surreal. By putting this constraint, the product was greatly simplified and almost everyone I showed it to, both customers and design experts, found the ease commendable. Now not only the users, but I as a maker also knew what I wanted to put in, and what I wanted to express. The feedback sessions were also richer. Everyone could think more clearly.
But that’s not all, that’s not the magic. Magic came from the paradox that this actually helped to achieve more. More capability and features than planned. There were some key ideas in customer feedback, which the earlier, noisier desktop design had no space to accommodate. But after the constraints, I could put them in with ease, and they felt intuitive, as if they were a part of the interface.
So, the next time you face the noise of options, and confusion of prioritization, don’t be afraid to build constraints. They let you do more, with less.