Do you do it anyway?

Let us imagine that you are a designer, designing a thing. Doesn’t matter here what the thing is; it might be a piece of software or a phone or a car or a coffee machine or a tea cup. Further imagine that there are already lots of people using this thing, and a whole bunch of those people legitimately want it to do something that it currently does not. You’d like the thing to have this feature, but importantly you can’t work out how to add it such that it’s beautifully integrated and doesn’t compromise any of the other stuff. (That might be because there genuinely is no way, or just because you haven’t thought of one yet, and obviously the second of those looks like the first one to you.)

The fundamental question dividing everyone into two camps is: do you do it anyway?

If you add the feature, then you’ll either do so relatively visibly or relatively invisibly. If it’s relatively visible then it will compromise the overall feel of the thing and maybe make it more difficult to use its existing features (because you can’t think of a seamless brilliant way to add it, so it will be unseamless and unbrilliant and maybe get in the way). If you add it relatively invisibly, then most people will not even discover that it exists and only a subset of those will actually learn how to use it at all.

However, if you don’t add it, then lots of people who could benefit from it, want it, and could have it aren’t allowed, even if they’re prepared to learn a complex way to make it happen.

These two camps, these two approaches, are contradictory, in opposition, irreconcilable, and equally valid.

It’s the “equally valid” bit that people have trouble with.

This war is played out, day after day, hour after hour, in every field of endeavour. And not once have I ever seen anyone become convinced by an argument to switch to the other side. I have seen people switch, and lots of them, but it’s a gradual process; nobody reads a frantic and shrill denunciation of their current opinion and then immediately crosses the floor.

There are also many people who would protest this division into two opposing camps; who would say that one should strike a balance. Everyone who says this is lying. It is not possible to strike a balance between these two things. You may well believe yourself to straddle this divide like an Adonis, but what that actually means is that sometimes you’re in one camp and sometimes you’re in the other, not that you’re simultaneously in both. Saying “well, you should add the feature, but as sensitively as possible” means “if it can’t be done sensitively, I’ll do it anyway”. Saying “it’s important to be user-focused, not feature-focused” means “people don’t get to have this thing even if they want it”. Doubtless you, gentle reader, would disagree with one of those two characterisations, which proves the point. Both views are equally valid, and they’re in opposition. If you’re of the opinion that it should be possible to straddle this divide, then help those of your comrades who can’t yet do so; help the do-it-anyways to understand that it’s sometimes better to leave a thing out, and help the deny-it-anyways to understand that some of their users are happy to learn about a thing to get best use from it. But if you’re already in one camp, stop telling the other camp that they’re wrong. We have enough heat and not enough light already.

I'm currently available for hire, to help you plan, architect, and build new systems, and for technical writing and articles. You can take a look at some projects I've worked on and some of my writing. If you'd like to talk about your upcoming project, do get in touch.

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