Simple Products We Make Complicated

Today I was reading a book talking about ‘feature creep.’ For those who don’t know, feature creep is what’s going on with your TV remote - you know, the one with all the buttons that you’re not exactly sure about what they do? What’s funny is that, as we keep complaining about our complicated cell phones and TV remotes and what all, we seem to have no problem with the ‘feature creep’ that’s occurring on our iPhones and blackberries or computers. At any given moment, I have Netnewswire, Adium, Tweetdeck, Entourage and Firefox running on my computer. And I’ve got to have the Flickr uploader and an extra bookmark manager and whatnot else. Then there’s the open-ended products like the Nabaztag/tag or Chumby, which have no features at all, until you add them.

There’s a lesson here: We like simple products we can make complicated. There’s something special about adding our own ‘features,’ and there’s something about expandable design. If trends like custom manufacturing grow, we’ll even see personalized feature creep into remote controls and microwaves and VCRs. I think it’ll be interesting to see how this changes the minds of designers: my bet is it will be empowering. Instead of having to worry about creating a large product that fits a demographic, we’ll be able to create small add-ons which fit the needs of a specific sub-set of users. For users, the investment in customization and the process of ‘making a simple product complicated’ will probably result in a sense of pride in our creations, and more meaning attached to our objects.