(This was originally published on medium)
When I look back in my life and try to point out which devices or objects brought me the most joy, these come to mind:
- iPod Nano 3rd gen
- Lamy Safari fountain Pen
- VW Polo 86C (1994)
- Hermes Baby Typewriter
- Sony MZ-N505 MiniDisc Walkman
- Random Selection of Cameras (Analog & Digital)
- Adidas Los Angeles
- Vailant Heating System
- early Google Chrome
- Nokia 3310
Now, what do all of those have in common? They serve (mostly) one, single purpose. They dont try to do a lot of things, but instead focus on doing one thing great. My iPod/ MD Player plays music. My pen writes. ICQ let me chat. Cameras take still pictures. Chrome was the fastest, simplest browser.
- Facebook (Messenger especially)
- Smartphones and Smartwatches
- Crossover SUVs (what are they built for? I mean, really?)
- Social Calendars (NO!)
- 4K recording, bluetooth/ wifi/ NFC enabled “point and shoots”
They all try very hard to do all the things at the same time, thinking that the consumer finds out what he always wanted, if they just throw shit at the wall until something sticks. But most consumers (including me) never downloaded Facebook Messenger to scribble on their pictures (or drain their batterys) and never bought a camera to download their pictures via Bluetooth.
Instead we got those things to use what they were made for: Messenger to stay in touch with friends [on facebook]. Cameras to take pictures of our vacation. Calendars to freshen up our memory, etc. You can still use all those things for their intended purposes, but these are obstructed by endless feature lists and 20-level-deep menues. Products are built to be sold by incredible margins and get added the shortest lifecycles possible to sell more and more shit that consumers can throw away.
Meanwhile, nobody seems to know what consumers acutally want and instead try to cram in as much functionality into their things as possible. And god forbid, someone is successfull with one thing, because it will get added to the pile of half assed crap that alrady rises mile high on certain products’ feature lists. Some might call that process “over engineering”.
So here’s my suggestion: Focus.
What does your thing actually do?
Where is the main benefit for your users?
Do you actually need to add more features?
Answer those questions, then double down on one feature and make your thing accomplish that goal better than everybody else’s.
Your product doesn’t even have to be original or new. Reinventing the wheel is absolutely legit, just know when and how. I love typewriters, but they are extremly impractical for most people who have to actually get a job done. Analog film is great, but nowhere near as practical as a good digital camera. My old Polo drove well, but it’s a death trap compared to a Tesla.
Now don’t forget. Some things actually have to do everything and do it well. Thats why so many people were upset by the new MacBook Pro’s. They are true multipurpose devices that should deliver on many of professional users’ needs. Maybe your app is that thing (e.g. Outlook). But chances are it isn’t and your overburdening yourself and your users with things they never needed and you can’t deliver on doing well.
Last but not least: This is not a pledge to hinder inventiveness. Mix and mingle all you want. Remixing can produce ideas you might have never had. Making 2 things work well together can be a great problem to solve. In many cases it isn’t though.
Now back to work.