Experience Is a Feature

Written on 2018-01-22 • conversation (4)

My brother studies product design. The kind where you work with physical models. We like to discuss design over cheap Gin Tonics. Two years ago, one of our discussions was about experience and features in design.

He was in the middle of learning to name things. University professors teach him to tear the world apart. Designers need a common, specific design vocabulary. It makes it easier to give a proper critique on a design, and improve it. Feature, aesthetic, affordance or experience are examples. This is a great way of learning about design, but these things need to come together again as well.

To my brother, features, aesthetics and experience are different concepts. They might even have a hierarchy. The thesis of his professors is that features are more important than the experience. A slow app is less bad than an app that is missing a feature.

Maslow’s pyramid of human needs, which still inspires most hierarchical design thinking today.

My brother used the metaphor of a shoe. In his mind, when somebody goes out to buy shoes, they will decide quite rationally. Does the shoe offer protection for my soles, does it fit well, is it pleasant to wear, is it affordable and does it look good? There has to be a hierarchy, because why on earth would somebody buy Crocs, right?

I thought his example was perfect. Designers often see those different components, but a customer rarely does.

To the man who buys wedding shoes, the experience is the feature. Maybe he pays a premium for personal service in a brand flagship store. The experience is so much better, and that is what he wants to remember. He doesn’t really care if the shoes are less comfortable than sneakers, or less protective than outdoor wear.

To the woman who goes to an important meeting, aesthetics are the feature. The shoes might not fit well. They might not even protect her feet from rain or cold. But they fulfill the function of empowering her in that important meeting perfectly well.

I think it is really important, as people designing and building products, that we realize a customer who uses a product does not look at the world in the same way we look at it. A feature is a feature. Aesthetic is a feature. And experience is a feature. Treat them with the same importance and respect, understand what your customers are buying, and you will build great products.

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I’m appalled.

Those Gin-Tonics were cheap?

Claus · Mon 22 Jan 2018 · #

My theory:
Experience is not one of the features, but all the features contribute to the experience.

Features create the experience.

— Matteo Di Vito · Tue 23 Jan 2018 · #

I can see what you are getting at, but just like the structure of the Maslow pyramid, not all things are created equal. And so, if we are drawing Venn Diagrams, Experience shouldn’t be wholly placed within Feature — which I believe is what the article is getting at. In most cases, it is most likely the other way around. Now, it can just be how we word it (i.e. is a feature an experience, is experience a feature?) but if we are talking about Experience Designer or UX Designer, the craft is to look at all the available features & create an experience that can best serve the user.

Kai · Tue 23 Jan 2018 · #

First off, get some good gin. You will enjoy your discussions much more.

The argument that experience or aesthetic is a feature is semantics. Of course you can easily say that because either is an aspect of a product, than it is a distinctive attribute of of it, therefore: feature.

I don’t think that you can attribute a single meaning or association to a word like experience. Experience is much more than a just a feature, it is at a micro level how a single feature is seen, at a macro level how all features together create symbiosis (or lack thereof). It is much less and much more.

Features don’t make a product. They are components of an product, some essential, some non-essential.

Also – I would argue that a slow app in many situations is MUCH worse than an app missing a feature.

Sorry for the rambling. :)

Willem · Tue 23 Jan 2018 · #