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Chapter 1. The Deep Changes > Changing the Feature Mindset

Changing the Feature Mindset

A deep philosophical change must take place in the shift to user-centered development. Most companies build applications intent on meeting a given time frame and providing a specific level of functionality. There is a whole flow of feature ideas, but this flow is not really user-centered—it is usually a combination of executive inspiration and customer comments. So how can a selection of features based partly on customer comments and requests not be considered user-centered? Certainly, this type of selection process must involve listening to the user. But often, it only gives the illusion of listening to the user. In many situations, these “customer” requests come from executives, marketing departments, or sales staff. The real user is not studied or fully understood by most of these well-meaning “user representatives.” In other situations, comments do flow from actual users. The users send ideas, but typically only very happy or very angry customers send feedback. Also, the comments tend to focus on features, rather than the overall design, error handling, page layout, or other usability issues. The result is the design of features that may not represent the majority of end users and may not address the application as a whole.

It isn't enough to just apply standard usability techniques such as usability testing because just applying techniques does not address the underlying issue. There is still a need to change the focus away from functionality. Software developers often build applications that have unneeded functions, following a checklist of features for each product. Unfortunately, a clutter of irrelevant features contributes to a serious usability problem. The whole focus of the development team is on creating all these functions on time, but if they are not needed or can't be used, is timeliness so important?


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