We live in a time where products are shipped at an incredibly fast rate. With the internet democratizing access to information, new innovations are constantly being churned out and competition has grown fierce. While there is a need to remain efficient and constantly launch new updates, many companies have neglected to align their new features with their user and business needs. Products have become oversaturated.
When trying to keep our product relevant, our first instinct is to build out new features. However, as more features are added, the complexity of our product increases and its initial purpose becomes diluted.
Products can quickly become oversaturated with functions that don’t promote the company’s bottom line or the user’s needs; we are incorrectly conflating more features with good user experience, when in reality, a good user experience is derived from cultivating a focused product.
Cultivating a focused product is the act of refining the core user experience. It ensures that designers are building an intuitive and highly focused product rather than just adding new features on top of a product journey that is already misaligned: in essence building a quality feature over a quantity of features.
Dedesigns give us a new framework for polishing the central user experience. The act of reviewing existing features and questioning their pertinence to the core user journey allows us to become more cognizant of what features may be hindering a user to reach their goals.
If you are currently a designer that delivers products or softwares, this framework is integral in better understanding your key deliverables to users. We can become so acclimated to our products that we forget some things may not be essential. Use this as a refresher for understanding which features contribute to your value proposition.
Dedesigns are also useful for service-based and freelance UX designers as it shows prospective employers you have a deep understanding of product thinking. Adding a dedesign to your portfolio demonstrates that you not only can build new features, but are also able to deliver the right features.
A case for cultivating intentional products
For many events, 80% of effects are derived from only 20% of our actions: this includes how we build our products. For example, many of us have dozens of apps on our phones, but generally only use a handful to accomplish our tasks. It is far more important to make the 20% most essential features of our product robust, rather than work on adding new features.
Feature creep occurs when we continually add new features to our project scope. New and oftentimes unnecessary features, take time and energy away from the core features of your product and place a burden on the development team. By spreading our product team thinner across many features we, in turn, hurt the quality of the experience we are providing to our users.
As designers, we want to make sure our products are as intuitive as possible. This starts by reducing complexity and mitigating confusing features in our applications. All products have an inherent amount of irreducible complexity and it is up to us as designers to figure out how we are going to distribute that complexity. We need to do the hard thinking upfront so our users won’t have to. This means making the tough decision of prioritizing and developing the most essential features to ensure our application is as user friendly and streamlined as possible. Less is more.
The Dedesign: A new way to evaluate and redesign products
While there is a common trend for designers to redesign and add new features to some of their favorite applications, little is done to mitigate excess features in products. Now that we understand how important it is to cultivate a focused product, it is time to remove excess complexity in our applications.
As more features are added, the complexity of our product increases and its initial purpose becomes diluted.
The dedesign is a redesign strategy that evaluates the key value proposition of our product and tries to reduce digital complexity to the user. The goal of a dedesign is to deconstruct existing apps and remove unnecessary features that do not contribute to the core user experience.
Dedesigns force designers to stop looking ahead and instead think about what we can do to make the already existing feature set more successful. They are a great way to show product thinking to possible employers as you demonstrate an ability to understand the core product purpose and the basic user needs. It is also a great way to reframe the common belief that adding new features leads to a successful user experience.
The key question in dedesigns is how might we streamline existing features to render more intentional products?
Although there hasn’t been a formal word to describe this UX process in the past, the dedesign is a common trend in most major tech companies. Many companies utilize A/B testing to see how variations in existing features will promote the product experience. Similarly, major companies have divided up some of their apps (think Messenger and Facebook), when they realized they were serving two very different product purposes.
Dedesigns don’t always need to be as complex as dividing an app into two separate products. It can be as simple as changing a style guide as Slack did when they reduced the total amount of colors in their branding guide or Apple removing their headphone jack on the iPhone. Slack realized that the excess colors were not necessary to the overall playful message that the brand tries to promote, so they reduced the complexity. Similarly, Apple wanted to reduce the clutter and minimal listening distance associated with headphone wires so they removed the cords and changed to a wireless system.
How to create an effective dedesign
Now that you understand what a dedesign is and why they are an essential evaluation tool, we now need to learn how to go about performing one.
The first step is to pick your product. This could be one of your favorite apps, your own product, or something you have never used before. I like to pick products that I use everyday and that I often take for granted. As habitual users, our everyday products force us to think more actively about the core user experience and pose more of a challenge to find friction points.
Once you have picked your product, highlight the core product purpose and key user journeys. I like to map out the stakeholders first and consider why they are hiring this app to perform a specific job. I then create multiple user journeys and think about the most optimal path that users take to reach their goal.
The next step is to identify where certain features diverge from the core product purpose or do not contribute to the overall user journey. For my everyday apps, I first like to look at the user journeys I generally take and then think about the ones I never use. This is a great way to find less important paths in your app and start evaluating nonessential features. Note that the goal of a dedesign is to reduce excess complexity and not remove things that only you might not use.
Before removing a feature, think about why this feature was added. Be very careful when deciding a feature is nonessential, as a very successful product team put that feature there for a reason: don’t blindly remove something. Our goal isn’t to bash anyone’s design, but merely rethink the way we view our product. You need to have a strong justification for removing the feature that does not insult the team that put it there in the first place.
Once you have decided a feature is nonessential, it is now time to convince your stakeholders. Have strong qualitative and quantitative justifications based on an objective view of the app, not just your experiences with it. This step requires you to add metrics. Similar to A/B testing, we want to see how the removal of a feature will impact the way users interact with the product and prove our new concept is valid.
If you are an employee at a company, removing a feature may seem like a loss for your team, however in actuality if the feature does not contribute to the user experience, keeping it only makes your product more complex. When presenting a dedesign to fellow employees, remind them of the core value proposition and why a particular feature may detract from it. It is crucial to remind your team that a quality experience will outperform a quantity of experiences. We need to reframe our success metrics so that we prioritize focus over abundance.
Lastly, redesign a more streamlined user journey without this feature. This could be as simple as changing the style guide or as complex as building an entirely new app that is more focused. It is up to you to determine the most intuitive user journey.
Let’s dedesign something together
For this example, let’s reevaluate the Facebook home screen using a dedesign framework. I picked Facebook because it is an app I use every day and am habituated to it. I am rarely thinking about the steps I take on the app, and I thought it would be more of a challenge to pick a product that I take for granted.
Before diving into features, we want to understand Facebook’s purpose and the common paths a user might take to accomplish their goals. Facebook’s purpose is to “make the world more open and connected” and their primary users (on their consumer facing app) are everyday people who want to remain digitally connected to their community. Facebook’s common way of connecting users is through photos, videos, groups, and posts. As a typical user, you might want to share a photo or video to your feed so your peers can see it.
Upon evaluating the homescreen, one place where I see divergence from the core way of connecting users to their network is through Facebook stories. While it is a feature that shares a snippet of what someone is doing, Facebook’s other platform, Instagram, already does this much better. Since Facebook is less visually-oriented and more based on photo/post permanence it feels disjoint to add a story-like feature directly to the homepage.
Our goal is to reduce complexity and build a quality core experience. Just because a feature also helps connect users, it doesn’t mean it's the optimal way of doing so. Let’s think about why Facebook put this feature here. Very smart product designers had a goal in mind when putting stories on the homepage, so let’s not undermine their design thinking. My guess is that Facebook wants to show users that Instagram and Facebook are owned by the same company. By mimicking the feature and location of Instagram stories on Facebook, they are demonstrating that the products are connected.
While this does serve a valid business-use case, Instagram stories are already highly successful, and putting a less fleshed out version of the same feature into Facebook only takes away from its validity. The key differentiator between Facebook and Instagram is that Facebook is more post-based while Instagram is more photo-based; it seems counter-intuitive to try to make the products more similar if they are serving different core purposes.
Now that we have picked a nonessential feature, let’s generate metrics. Things we could consider measuring are the increase or decrease in reading time for posts, time spent on the feed, and homepage drop-offs.
It’s now time to make a more streamlined flow.
By removing Facebook stories from the top of the homepage, we have now reduced visual complexity to the user so they can focus on the more core Facebook experience of posts. Removing a feature that isn’t aligned with the product’s core purpose should be seen as a win and not a failure. A more intentional and quality product is always better than one with too many features.
Dedesigns are a great way to reevaluate our everyday products and ensure we are creating the highest quality experience for our users. As designers our goal is to craft the most enjoyable experience, not the experience that lets us do the most. In many cases, less can be more.