A UX Primer: Functional Robustness vs. Simplicity

By Sharon Narita Fong
 in UX & Design

Too often clients attempt to have designs drive their product development. At first glance, this approach might seem logical: first we see how the product can function, and then we validate and document the business requirements.

But applying this approach to your product development effort can become costly, as it will lead to an endless cycle of iterations on your product design. Without first identifying key functionality and prioritizing that functionality, you will inevitably extend your design process and timeline.

A key decision should be made on whether you want to provide robust functionality, or a simple tool. You can certainly have both, but not at equal measure (not excellently, at least). You should always tip the scale to one side or the other for a good User Experience (UX). Trying to achieve both equally will often lead you to failing at both.

An example that can help illustrate this point is a Profile Creation tool. At it’s core, this tool should enable an end user to set different parameters for a profile—this can include gender, age, and purchase behavior. Do we want to target customers in-between the ages of 25 and 40? Or customers that bought something online or in a store?

From a marketing perspective, the ability to create these types of profiles is extremely powerful. But if the tool is poorly thought-out from a functional and design perspective, the marketer won’t be able to use the tool.

For example, let’s say we want to make a profile for this scenario:

Scenario A: Married women AND in-between the ages of 35-45

If the product owner decides they want to have a super robust tool, that could mean the marketer is enabled to set ‘AND’ and ‘OR’ parameters for each profile. In our scenario, we could enable the end user to profile women who are married AND in between the ages of 35-45. But, we could also enable the user to profile women who are married OR in between the ages of 35-45. In some instances, users may want to target 2 sets of populations (see Scenario B).

Scenario B: Married women OR all people in-between the ages of 35-45.

For a profile that only has 2 parameters, that is fine – but what if somewhere along the line we decide that it would be a good idea to provide robust functionality that would enable the user to select 5, 10, or even unlimited parameters while still allowing for both AND and OR scenarios (see Scenario C)?

Scenario C: Married women AND in-between the ages of 35-45 OR lives in California AND made a purchase online in the last 7 days.

In Scenario C, where do we draw the line? To elucidate the ambiguity, we split the Scenario C into two interpretations, Scenario C1 or Scenario C2. Which group are we targeting?

Scenario C1

Scenario C2

Though we can find ways to make this type of robust functionality usable for the end user, this is no longer a simple tool. In essence, this is a simple mathematical breakdown allowing the distinctions between profiles to be drawn; but we must recognize that as we increase functional capabilities, we do at the risk of making the tool less usable.

Before product owners begin the product development and design process, he should consider what is more important for his product: functional robustness or simplicity. One is not necessarily better than the other, nor are they mutually exclusive. It is purely a matter of considering business goals, product priorities, and balancing them in a way that makes sense for your business. If this type of prioritization does not happen early on, it is inevitable that more time will be spent on iterating on designs, testing the designs, and iterating again, which means you, the client, unnecessarily spend more time—and consequently money—during the design process.

As a consultant always striving to seek out win-win scenarios for my clients, I always recommend every client start with requirements, prioritization of features, product goals/objectives, or use cases instead of launching into the design phase. Verity Digital is committed to helping you navigate the product development process so that you can avoid common pitfalls and save your organization time and money.

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