30 May 2016

When and How to Disappoint Your Users

Every company ships products that some or many users don’t like. Like the 12-inch Macbook — I think a laptop with only one port is crazy.

As opposed to say, the Pixel C, which was launched to terrible reviews. Or Evernote’s data loss problems. These piss users off more than the one-port Macbook.

If you’re going to dissatisfy people, better do so before they’ve invested in your product. Either in the literal sense of spending money (to buy a device or a paid app). Or an investment in time and effort, like investigating your app, understanding what it does and doesn’t do, setting it up, importing their data, and so on.

If you are going to disappoint users after they invest, they’ll be pissed, because their investment has now gone waste. Better to disappoint them when they first hear of your device, like a one-port laptop. If that’s not what they want, they move on without investing in your product and being pissed that it didn’t work.

In software, there’s a saying that the earlier a bug is discovered, the less it costs to fix it. Similarly, if a user is going to be disappointed, the earlier you disappoint them, the better. The ideal time to disappoint a user is before they’ve become one, when they are just a potential user. Better to decide not to marry someone than to get a divorce.

Another dimension is vision vs execution. If a product has a different vision from what someone wants, they can still understand that. The one-port Macbook is not for me because it’s like an iPad with a keyboard. Which is still fine for people who want a thin and light device at all costs. People understand that there are different goals a product could aspire towards, and different tradeoffs. Nobody faults an SUV for being costlier or less fuel-efficient than a hatchback. They just don’t buy it if that’s not what they want.

Whereas if it’s a problem of execution — bugs, crashes, data loss, unresponsiveness, poor battery life, broken animations, and so on — users will be less generous in their evaluation of your product. They will be pissed. Go with whatever vision you want, but make sure you execute that vision as well as can be executed.

In summary, if you’re going to disappoint your users, do so before they’ve invested in your product, whether in money, time or effort. And disappoint them by working towards a different vision from what they want, not by poor execution.

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