Design Killer Applications

Good single-function design is the secret

In a competitive and crowded market a trap for new entrants is the temptation to try to do all things well. This goes against the timeless design principle of cohesiveness. Cohesiveness is about ensuring you do the main thing better than the competition. Cohesiveness is particularly important in today's market for high tech products such as portable digital devices and web-based applications.

Forrester Research (06 Dec. 2005) ask the question Where Have All The Single-Function Devices Gone and set the context:

"Today's cell phones can play MP3s, and the newest MP3 players can play video and view photos. PDAs roll numerous productivity and entertainment functions into one handheld device: email, calendar, voice, camera, music, and video. Consumers faced with so many technology choices are forced to ask themselves when a device crosses the line from manageable multitasker to operational overload".

In response they suggest four Rules Of Portable Multitasking

  1. Don't obfuscate the core function of the device

  2. Only add functions that don't detract from the core application

  3. Price multitasking devices based on primary markets

  4. Watch users carefully

Forrester's principles apply equally to developers of web-based applications such as virtual collaboration tools:

  1. Find a Problem

  2. Uniquely Solve it

  3. Avoid Function Creep

  4. Respond to user ideas

Many of the companies currently being labelled as web2.0 or websmart have learned this lesson well.

It also reminded me of an excellent article in the Harvard Business Review 11/1/2005 by Mark Gottfredson and Keith Aspinall, Innovation Versus Complexity: What Is Too Much of a Good Thing? which suggests

β€œThe first step is to ask, What would our company look like if it made and sold only a single product or service?"

"For Starbucks, it might be a medium-size cup of coffee; for a bank, a simple checking account. Then determine the cost of producing that baseline offering. Next, add variety back into the business system, product by product, and carefully forecast the resulting impact on sales as well as the cost implications across the value chain. When the analysis shows the costs beginning to overwhelm the added revenues, you've found your innovation fulcrum. By deconstructing their companies to a zero-complexity baseline, managers can break through organizational resistance and deeply entrenched ways of thinking to find the right balance between innovation and complexity.”

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