Feature lists: Quality vs. Length

19 Jan 2007 - 11:28am
7 years ago
22 replies
975 reads
Robert Hoekman, Jr.
2005

Much research has clearly been done to provide evidence that people make
purchasing decisions based on feature lists. But one question keep popping
back into my head. Does the quality of the feature list matter, or only its
length?

Imagine two products:
1) A robust, full-featured word processing app that does everything MS Word
can do. We market this with a fairly short feature list, pointing out only
the most significant features.
2) A scaled-down, aesthetically appealing, easy-to-use word processing app.
We market this with a long feature list, but most of the "features" listed
are about how easy it is to use instead of what it does. As in, instead of
listing out table support, charts, etc, we describe that you can open
multiple documents by simply dragging them into the app window.

Which one wins in a purchasing situation?

-r-

Comments

19 Jan 2007 - 11:38am
.pauric
2006

Both, no.2 is on the front of the box, no.1 is on the back.

19 Jan 2007 - 11:43am
jstrande
2007

It depends on who is purchasing it - if the person who will be using
the product, that is probably good. If it is being purchased by
someone for someone else, does that still apply?

There was a great section in 'Watches Tell More Than Time' by Del
Coates where he discussed this type of stuff... I'm going to have to
reread that.

On 1/19/07, pauric <radiorental at gmail.com> wrote:
> Both, no.2 is on the front of the box, no.1 is on the back.
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19 Jan 2007 - 2:19pm
AlokJain
2006

I think you need both

e.g.
short version - http://www.apple.com/macbookpro/
Detailed specs - http://www.apple.com/macbookpro/specs.html

--
Best Regards
Alok Jain
----------------------------------------------------------
http://www.iPrincipia.com

On 1/19/07, Robert Hoekman, Jr. <rhoekmanjr at gmail.com> wrote:
>
> Much research has clearly been done to provide evidence that people make
> purchasing decisions based on feature lists. But one question keep popping
> back into my head. Does the quality of the feature list matter, or only
> its
> length?
>
> Imagine two products:
> 1) A robust, full-featured word processing app that does everything MS
> Word
> can do. We market this with a fairly short feature list, pointing out only
> the most significant features.
> 2) A scaled-down, aesthetically appealing, easy-to-use word processing
> app.
> We market this with a long feature list, but most of the "features" listed
> are about how easy it is to use instead of what it does. As in, instead of
> listing out table support, charts, etc, we describe that you can open
> multiple documents by simply dragging them into the app window.
>
> Which one wins in a purchasing situation?
>
> -r-
> ________________________________________________________________
> Welcome to the Interaction Design Association (IxDA)!
> To post to this list ....... discuss at ixda.org
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>

19 Jan 2007 - 2:22pm
Todd Warfel
2003

Yup, that's what we refer to as the onion-skinning approach. First
there's an appropriate summary, which is useful to all and addresses
90% of the audience. And for those who want more, there's the more
detailed layer - the second layer of the onion.

On Jan 19, 2007, at 2:19 PM, Alok Jain wrote:

> e.g.
> short version - http://www.apple.com/macbookpro/
> Detailed specs - http://www.apple.com/macbookpro/specs.html

Cheers!

Todd Zaki Warfel
Partner, Design & Usability Specialist
Messagefirst | Designing Information. Beautifully.
----------------------------------
Contact Info
Voice: (215) 825-7423
Email: todd at messagefirst.com
AIM: twarfel at mac.com
Blog: http://toddwarfel.com
----------------------------------
In theory, theory and practice are the same.
In practice, they are not.

19 Jan 2007 - 9:51pm
Jared M. Spool
2003

On Jan 19, 2007, at 9:28 AM, Robert Hoekman, Jr. wrote:

> Much research has clearly been done to provide evidence that people
> make
> purchasing decisions based on feature lists.

I'm not sure this is a true statement. In fact, most of us who have
researched how people shop online have come to a very different
conclusion.

However, when feature lists are the only available source of
information, it might seem like this is true.

Jared

Jared M. Spool
User Interface Engineering
510 Turnpike St., Suite 102, North Andover, MA 01845
e: jspool at uie.com p: +1 978 327 5561
http://uie.com Blog: http://uie.com/brainsparks

20 Jan 2007 - 8:39am
Esteban Barahona
2006

like text only purchase? That will be an interesting way of "selling
mindshare"... Is Guy Kawasaki alive?! ...the one of "evangelizing"

2007/1/19, Jared M. Spool <jspool en uie.com>:
>
>
> On Jan 19, 2007, at 9:28 AM, Robert Hoekman, Jr. wrote:
>
> > Much research has clearly been done to provide evidence that people
> > make
> > purchasing decisions based on feature lists.
>
> I'm not sure this is a true statement. In fact, most of us who have
> researched how people shop online have come to a very different
> conclusion.
>
> However, when feature lists are the only available source of
> information, it might seem like this is true.
>
> Jared
>
>
> Jared M. Spool
> User Interface Engineering
> 510 Turnpike St., Suite 102, North Andover, MA 01845
> e: jspool en uie.com p: +1 978 327 5561
> http://uie.com Blog: http://uie.com/brainsparks
>
>
>
> ________________________________________________________________
> Welcome to the Interaction Design Association (IxDA)!
> To post to this list ....... discuss en ixda.org
> List Guidelines ............ http://listguide.ixda.org/
> List Help .................. http://listhelp.ixda.org/
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--
http://www.zensui.org

20 Jan 2007 - 12:48pm
Robert Hoekman, Jr.
2005

> I'm not sure this is a true statement. In fact, most of us who have
> researched how people shop online have come to a very different
> conclusion.

Let me clarify:

Much research has been done to indicate that people make purchasing
decisions based on the length or a feature list, when feature lists
are all that's available for reference.

:)

What have you seen that contradicts this? I've seen a lot lately to
support it, so I'm curious.

-r-

20 Jan 2007 - 1:10pm
.pauric
2006

Jared "In fact, most of us who have researched how people shop online
have come to a very different conclusion."

Have you any thoughts on how to feed these user-researched sources
(social product reviews) back in to product enhancements/usability
fixes? Are they any challenges or advantages over in-house usability
reviews?

thanks

21 Jan 2007 - 6:23pm
Esteban Barahona
2006

The problem is when we're talking of 10 000 features

2007/1/20, Robert Hoekman, Jr. <rhoekmanjr en gmail.com>:
>
> > I'm not sure this is a true statement. In fact, most of us who have
> > researched how people shop online have come to a very different
> > conclusion.
>
> Let me clarify:
>
> Much research has been done to indicate that people make purchasing
> decisions based on the length or a feature list, when feature lists
> are all that's available for reference.
>
> :)
>
> What have you seen that contradicts this? I've seen a lot lately to
> support it, so I'm curious.
>
> -r-
> ________________________________________________________________
> Welcome to the Interaction Design Association (IxDA)!
> To post to this list ....... discuss en ixda.org
> List Guidelines ............ http://listguide.ixda.org/
> List Help .................. http://listhelp.ixda.org/
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> Questions .................. lists en ixda.org
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> Resource Library ........... http://resources.ixda.org
>

--
http://www.zensui.org

24 Jan 2007 - 6:13pm
Jared M. Spool
2003

On Jan 20, 2007, at 9:48 AM, Robert Hoekman, Jr. wrote:

> Much research has been done to indicate that people make purchasing
> decisions based on the length or a feature list, when feature lists
> are all that's available for reference.
>
> :)
>
> What have you seen that contradicts this? I've seen a lot lately to
> support it, so I'm curious.

What we've found is it has to do with the maturity of the market and
the knowledge and experience of the shopper. When a market is
immature, people aren't aware of the differentiators or their
particular needs. In those cases, the length of the feature list will
play a significant role in their decision making.

As they become more experienced with the market and the market
matures, they start to develop specific needs. ("I need camera that's
easy to make prints to send to my family.") In this case, specific
features start to play a role.

Does that make sense?

Jared

Jared M. Spool
User Interface Engineering
510 Turnpike St., Suite 102, North Andover, MA 01845
e: jspool at uie.com p: +1 978 327 5561
http://uie.com Blog: http://uie.com/brainsparks

24 Jan 2007 - 6:26pm
Jared M. Spool
2003

On Jan 20, 2007, at 10:10 AM, pauric wrote:

> Jared "In fact, most of us who have researched how people shop online
> have come to a very different conclusion."
>
> Have you any thoughts on how to feed these user-researched sources
> (social product reviews) back in to product enhancements/usability
> fixes? Are they any challenges or advantages over in-house usability
> reviews?

Pauric,

Good question.

I think the product reviews are one more input into the design
process. They have two advantages:

1) They provide unsolicited input about frustrations and delights.

2) They often give access to people who are worth talking to further.

However, they also have these disadvantages:

1) They are self-reported and self-selected. Just because an
individual says something is broken doesn't mean it is broken for
everyone else, nor does it mean they understand the root cause of the
problem.

2) They are summative and not formative. It's hard to know how to
interpret the data without delving deeper into understanding the
objectives of the user and the context of use.

Using product reviews as a mechanism for initiating a more detailed
research agenda is an effective strategy. Making product changes
purely based on the reviews probably isn't.

Jared

24 Jan 2007 - 10:31pm
Josh
2006

>From the data I've seen the length of the features list does convert better.
The problem is that I'm talking about direct marketing conversions online
when feature grids are used to up-sell as opposed to gain competitive
advantage. I would argue that in side-by-side comparisons of competitive
products, feature lists absolutely matter. Note that side-by-side comparison
shopping is relatively rare, and that it's tough to compare apples and
oranges. The two apps described are really nothing alike, and the methods
you've chosen to describe them have no commonalities.

Interestingly enough, if you're selling online, you can just do some A/B or
multi-variant testing to get the answer. Why leave it up to the "experts",
when it's the user's money you want?

- Josh Viney

24 Jan 2007 - 10:39pm
.pauric
2006

Just putting this on the table as it contains most of the points
covered in this thread
http://www.novell.com/products/desktop/compare-to-vista.html

24 Jan 2007 - 10:48pm
Adler
2006

web became too self-oriented. Personal reviews, personal blogs,
personal opinions...
It would be great to see more collaborative reviews where a few people
would write together a more unbiased review. A cooperative blog.

Adler

On 1/25/07, Jared M. Spool <jspool at uie.com> wrote:
> Good question.
>
> I think the product reviews are one more input into the design
> process. They have two advantages:
>
> 1) They provide unsolicited input about frustrations and delights.
>
> 2) They often give access to people who are worth talking to further.
>
> However, they also have these disadvantages:
>
> 1) They are self-reported and self-selected. Just because an
> individual says something is broken doesn't mean it is broken for
> everyone else, nor does it mean they understand the root cause of the
> problem.
>
> 2) They are summative and not formative. It's hard to know how to
> interpret the data without delving deeper into understanding the
> objectives of the user and the context of use.

--
mobile +852 98 14 5027
User Experience * Interaction Design
http://www.linkedin.com/in/adler

25 Jan 2007 - 12:50am
Steve Baty
2009

Robert,

An article appeared in the February 2006 edition of Harvard Business Review
"Defeating feature fatigue" which covered some of the points you've raised,
and seems to reconcile the contradiction indicated by Jared's comments. In
an immature market, where consumers are unfamiliar with the
technology/product, feature length will play a greater role in purchasing
decisions. As the market matures, and consumers become more familiar with
the product - through use of early generations - they shift towards
usability and the presence of specific features, so the quality of the
feature list and the resultant product comes to the fore.

The lifecycle of the product will impact how quickly this shift will occur,
but there appears to be a general consideration that early on in the life of
a product market the number of features will prevail. Marketing a product in
its infancy based on specific features, or ease-of-use, when competing
against products marketing the full spread of features, will tend to be less
successful early on. Over time, a shift towards the quality of features - in
both the design of the product and its marketing, will start to bear fruit.

3 take-aways from the article:
i) Consumers know that products with more features are harder to use, but
before they purchase a product they value its capability more than its
usability;
ii) Even when consumers are allowed to customize a product, they load on the
features, worrying little about the learning curve they are setting
themselves for;
iii) Once consumer have used a product, their preferences change. Suddenly,
usability matter very much.

For reference:
"Defeating Feature Fatigue" by Roland T Rust, Debora Viana Thompson and
Rebecca W. Hamilton, Harvard Business Review February 2006, Volume 84 Number
2.

Best Regards,

Steve Baty

On 20/01/07, Robert Hoekman, Jr. <rhoekmanjr at gmail.com> wrote:
>
> Much research has clearly been done to provide evidence that people make
> purchasing decisions based on feature lists. But one question keep popping
> back into my head. Does the quality of the feature list matter, or only
> its
> length?
>
>
----------------------------------------------
Steve 'Doc' Baty B.Sc (Maths), M.EC, MBA
Director, User Experience Strategy
Red Square
P: +612 8289 4930
M: +61 417 061 292

Member, UPA - www.upassoc.org
Member, IxDA - www.ixda.org
Member, Web Standards Group - www.webstandardsgroup.org
Columnist, UXMatters - www.uxmatters.com

25 Jan 2007 - 11:12am
Robert Hoekman, Jr.
2005

I've actually read the article, but I wasn't thinking about this at the
time, so I guess I should re-read it. :)

Interesting. It seems contradictory to the rise of agile/extreme/etc
programming. As in, while the new goal with speedy dev processes seems to
be, "build something and get it out ASAP, then we'll evolve it later", the
most important time for a long feature list seems to be at the beginning of
a market. Continuing this, when a more established market starts looking for
improved usability, software and products get more complicated.

The product makers and the users seem to be moving in opposite directions.
Users want "lots of stuff" at the beginning, while product makers are busy
building less in the interest of releasing early. Later, when users want
improved usability, product makers focus on adding more and more "stuff" to
the product.

Does this sound like a fair assessment? If so, it seems like the product
makes need to make some adjustments.

-r-

On 1/24/07, Doc <stevebaty at gmail.com> wrote:
>
> Robert,
>
> An article appeared in the February 2006 edition of Harvard Business
> Review "Defeating feature fatigue" which covered some of the points you've
> raised, and seems to reconcile the contradiction indicated by Jared's
> comments. In an immature market, where consumers are unfamiliar with the
> technology/product, feature length will play a greater role in purchasing
> decisions. As the market matures, and consumers become more familiar with
> the product - through use of early generations - they shift towards
> usability and the presence of specific features, so the quality of the
> feature list and the resultant product comes to the fore.
>
> The lifecycle of the product will impact how quickly this shift will
> occur, but there appears to be a general consideration that early on in the
> life of a product market the number of features will prevail. Marketing a
> product in its infancy based on specific features, or ease-of-use, when
> competing against products marketing the full spread of features, will tend
> to be less successful early on. Over time, a shift towards the quality of
> features - in both the design of the product and its marketing, will start
> to bear fruit.
>
> 3 take-aways from the article:
> i) Consumers know that products with more features are harder to use, but
> before they purchase a product they value its capability more than its
> usability;
> ii) Even when consumers are allowed to customize a product, they load on
> the features, worrying little about the learning curve they are setting
> themselves for;
> iii) Once consumer have used a product, their preferences change.
> Suddenly, usability matter very much.
>
> For reference:
> "Defeating Feature Fatigue" by Roland T Rust, Debora Viana Thompson and
> Rebecca W. Hamilton, Harvard Business Review February 2006, Volume 84
> Number 2.
>
> Best Regards,
>
> Steve Baty
>
> On 20/01/07, Robert Hoekman, Jr. <rhoekmanjr at gmail.com> wrote:
> >
> > Much research has clearly been done to provide evidence that people make
> >
> > purchasing decisions based on feature lists. But one question keep
> > popping
> > back into my head. Does the quality of the feature list matter, or only
> > its
> > length?
> >
> >
> ----------------------------------------------
> Steve 'Doc' Baty B.Sc (Maths), M.EC, MBA
> Director, User Experience Strategy
> Red Square
> P: +612 8289 4930
> M: +61 417 061 292
>
> Member, UPA - www.upassoc.org
> Member, IxDA - www.ixda.org
> Member, Web Standards Group - www.webstandardsgroup.org
> Columnist, UXMatters - www.uxmatters.com
>

25 Jan 2007 - 11:48am
Adrian Howard
2005

On 25 Jan 2007, at 16:12, Robert Hoekman, Jr. wrote:
[snip]
> Interesting. It seems contradictory to the rise of agile/extreme/etc
> programming. As in, while the new goal with speedy dev processes
> seems to
> be, "build something and get it out ASAP, then we'll evolve it
> later", the
> most important time for a long feature list seems to be at the
> beginning of
> a market.
[snip]

It's not necessarily contradictory, since you still could get the
long-feature product by the same date. It's just that you would have
had a bunch of releases of a shorter-feature list products before
that point.

Does a short-feature list product sell better than no product at
all? :-)

Adrian

25 Jan 2007 - 11:55am
.pauric
2006

Robert: "Users want "lots of stuff" at the beginning"

I would expand that statement a little, 'users' want value for money in lieu
of any overriding criteria. Its also worthwhile to remember that not all
users are the same. My users have a specific checklist and couldnt give a
flying spaghetti monster about options beyond their requirements. And, the
flip side example is your general consumer who buys a camera based on the
megapixel count only to find out later the ISO sucks and low light pictures
are too noisy.

25 Jan 2007 - 12:40pm
Josh
2006

Robert,

I think that the relevance of agile iterative product development processes
is a strength of online distribution, where products/web sites/features can
be shipped/deployed in a matter of hours as opposed to months for
shrink-wrapped software that requires months of planning. With
shrink-wrapped software, new features/bugs fixes are very
difficult/expensive to ship/deploy, so it requires that feature sets be
complete and as bug free as possible. Consumer behavior may have adapted to
this product release strategy over time, to the point that they view long
feature lists as a way to gauge product completeness.

Interesting hybrid might be found in MMOG and persistent world online game
product development strategies where games are typically launched
shrink-wrapped with just enough to get people started and product changes
are developed organically based on active user feedback. Of course, they
leverage online distribution for the last part.

- Josh Viney

25 Jan 2007 - 1:30pm
Mark Schraad
2006

>Interesting. It seems contradictory to the rise of agile/extreme/etc
>programming. As in, while the new goal with speedy dev processes seems to
>be, "build something and get it out ASAP, then we'll evolve it later", the
>most important time for a long feature list seems to be at the beginning of
>a market.

It depends upon where the product class is on adoption curve. In innovator and early adopter stages, options are usually limited, as are providors of the product. Choice is small, so the consumer can not demand much. Obviously this changes as more players enter the market and the feature battle begins. You are right though, at this stage features are typically more important than benefits in the selling proposition.

Continuing this, when a more established market starts looking for
>improved usability, software and products get more complicated.

... and the market more fragmented as the multitue of players are forced to again "pick thier battles" or segments.

>The product makers and the users seem to be moving in opposite directions.
>Users want "lots of stuff" at the beginning, while product makers are busy
>building less in the interest of releasing early. Later, when users want
>improved usability, product makers focus on adding more and more "stuff" to
>the product.

I can't stress enough the importance of designer's having a fundamental understanding of the diffusion of innovation as written by Everett Rogers

25 Jan 2007 - 1:35pm
Nasir Barday
2006

Jared wrote:
>> When a market is immature, people aren't aware of
>> the differentiators or their particular needs.
>> In those cases, the length of the feature list will play a
>> significant role in their decision making.

>> As they become more experienced with the market and the market
>> matures, they start to develop specific needs. ("I need camera that's
>> easy to make prints to send to my family.")

Don Norman's _The Invisible Computer_ has a chapter on technology market
maturity in relation to good design. It uses the "dancing bear" concept
Cooper drops in _Inmates_. When the market is fresh, early adopters seem
only to care that a product does X (say, take a digital picture). They don't
care that it takes a while to put pics on the their computers, just that it
_actually does it_. Products at the beginning compete almost purely on
features, because early adopters are after the novelty of all the
functionality.

As the market matures, new people are less interested in the novelty and
more on how it can make their lives easier. The winners then are the ones
that hold back and put features into context, etc.

- Nasir

25 Jan 2007 - 1:42pm
Jared M. Spool
2003

On Jan 25, 2007, at 11:12 AM, Robert Hoekman, Jr. wrote:

> The product makers and the users seem to be moving in opposite
> directions.
> Users want "lots of stuff" at the beginning, while product makers
> are busy
> building less in the interest of releasing early. Later, when users
> want
> improved usability, product makers focus on adding more and more
> "stuff" to
> the product.

I didn't read the Defeating Feature Fatigue paper as "Users want lots
of stuff," but that could be because I've spent a fair amount of time
watching shoppers choose products. Instead, I read into it that
shoppers look at list length when they don't understand how the
features will affect their experience.

While one way to improve sales is to give shoppers more features,
another approach may be to design a more effective sales process --
one where the shopper can envision the experience they desire and how
their product choices will affect that. In studying highly effective
salespeople, I've learned this is part of their process.

Jared

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