I purchased my North Face Women’s Surge backpack about a year ago. Built as a smaller backpack, I instantly loved the fit. Also, the marketing tags promoted a special section for a power adapter which caught my interest.
After a year of using this backpack, I discovered quite by accident I was putting the power adapter in the wrong compartment (towards the top near the front instead of at the bottom). I was completely defeating the purpose of the design.
I never saw the zipper at the bottom of the backpack. It begs the question, “North Face, why didn’t you just tell me where this ‘special location for a power adapter’ was located instead of making me guess? Why didn’t you use three extra words ‘on the bottom’ to tell me where it was? Why did you assume I’d just get it when I’ve never seen a backpack with this feature before?”
If a feature is built in a forest, and no one ever finds it to use it, does it make a sound?
- Yes, because I still bought the backpack, even though I never used the features.
- No, because I didn’t feel like I was getting the value I paid for it and came close to returning it and giving it negative reviews.
Is there value in designing and building features if your users don’t know they exist or how to use them properly? IMO, such features have a negative return on investment.
What else do I not know about my backpack?
Now I’m staring at my backpack thinking what else do I not know? What else am I using incorrectly?
I bet many of you are like me, where you’ve become so used to seeing these features over the years that it doesn’t even phase you anymore.
Perfect Example – Daisy chains
I have no idea what daisy chains are for, but I see them all the time on backpacks. Yes, obviously you could hook something to it, but is that the intent? Or am I using it wrong, just like the power adapter compartment.
One other example
I could go on and on with examples from backpacks, but I’ll limit myself to just one more: this thing below. What is supposed to go inside? A jacket? A helmet? If so, why have smaller compartments in the inside where items could fall out or get wet?
Seriously, someone designed it and someone had to test it out. So how do I use it to get the full value of my purchase?
Why doesn’t North Face have a simple “here’s the optimal way to pack this backpack?” guide or even just an image of a fully-packed backpack? Surely QA has done this to test the product. PM has designed it for a specific purpose (at least I hope!) Dev engineered it to spec – so you have the data, just share it!
Lessons learned from backpacks
Think about your software product just like designing this backpack.
- Are you designing features in a forest never to be found?
- Is it clear to your users how to use your features to maximize their benefits? (instead of being counter-productive?)
- Do you have a simple to follow user guide that illustrates how to use all your features?
If you only take one thing away from this blog post, it is this: Explain to your users how to use your features. All of them. Don’t make them guess. Don’t let them use them incorrectly.