By Jennifer (Jen) McGinn on Sep 06, 2007
Jen McGinn is an interaction designer in xDesign who is working to improve the user experience with the Java Enterprise System installers. She has an MS in Human Factors in Information Design and works out of Sun's campus in Massachusetts.
Over the last week, a usability email list that I belong to has been discussing Don Norman's article, "Simplicity Is Highly Overrated".
In this article, Don Norman talks about his experiences with consumer electronics in Korea, which illustrate something that he has seen time and time again during his 40-some years in the usability field: people choose products with more features at purchase time, because people interpret more features to mean that a product is more powerful and prestigious, and that the features give them more control. Likewise, people will pay more money for products with more features; even when the buyers understand that more features mean more complexity, and as a result, lower usability.
I wasn't as shocked by Don Norman's article as were some of the usability professionals on the email list, because I'd read the Harvard Business Review article, "Defeating Feature Fatigue" (February 2006), which discussed the trade-offs between features and usability, and the relationship between initial sales and customer satisfaction over time. It cites one study as finding that 85% of returned home networking products were returned because people couldn't get them to work.
Barry Schwartz, in Paradox of Choice, describes our anticipation of our experience with a thing as "expected utility" and the actual use of the thing as the "experienced utility". When our experience (experienced utility) is too far removed from what we expected it to be (expected utility), we are confused and uncomfortable (the technical term is "cognitive dissonance").
So while a product with more features appeals to us at purchase time, if our expectations of it conflict with our user experience of it, that tension can make us feel insecure about using the product, feel less satisfaction in owning it, or lead to returning it all together.