Skip to main content

Familiarity and Ease of Use

Familiarity has powerful effects on the ease of using a product. For example, consider a pointing device for a computer, whether it be a mouse, a touch pad, or a trackball. Someone who has exclusively used a mouse and never used a touch pad will almost certainly encounter difficulty and frustration when they try to use a touch pad. But after a sufficient time using the touch pad, she may actually grow to prefer it to a mouse. This concept applies to just about any product, including computer operating systems, e-mail software, toothbrushes, and even food.

Ease of use, therefore, depends not just on the person but on how familiar they have grown with the product. A product may intrinsically be easier to use than a competing product, but temporarily be more difficult for some users. As a consumer, whenever I have encountered this situation, I have generally felt a strong inclination to learn the unfamiliar product. I face short-term frustration, but the long-term benefits often are well worth the effort. But other people are much more reluctant to invest the time and effort to realize the long-term benefits. In fact, some people don't even seem to understand the distinction between intrinsic and temporary ease of use.

A product manager faces some interesting questions with such products. To what extent should the product features enhance intrinsic ease of use versus catering to those in the market who want a familiar user interface? Perhaps the product manager should segment the market as follows:

"Adventurous Learner" - excited to learn a new user interface for its own sake
"Pragmatic Learner" - willing to learn a new user interface for long-term benefit
"Reluctant Learner" - requires prodding to learn new user interface
"Resistant Learner" - will actively resist learning new user interface

This market segmentation helps the product manager to formulate ease of use requirements that ensure the product's user interface will appeal to a sufficiently large market. The company can bring in product testers that represent each of the target segments.

I realize that these observations resemble those in Geoffrey Moore's Crossing the Chasm. A difference is the emphasis on user interface rather than on disruptive technology.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Why Spreadsheets Suck for Prioritizing

The Goal As a company executive, you want confidence that your product team (which includes all the people, from all departments, responsible for product success) has a sound basis for deciding which items are on the product roadmap. You also want confidence the team is prioritizing the items in a smart way. What Should We Prioritize? The items the team prioritizes could be features, user stories, epics, market problems, themes, or experiments. Melissa Perri  makes an excellent case for a " problem roadmap ", and, in general, I recommend focusing on the latter types of items. However, the topic of what types of items you should prioritize - and in what situations - is interesting and important but beyond the scope of this blog entry. A Sad but Familiar Story If there is significant controversy about priorities, then almost inevitably, a product manager or other member of the team decides to put together The Spreadsheet. I've done it. Some of the mos

Use Case as a Black Box

Consider the following use case: Purchase Items Actor: Purchaser Precondition: Purchaser types at least thirty words per minute and has a web navigation efficiency rating of at least 40. Postcondition: For the average Purchaser acting at full efficiency, the number of seconds elapsed is no more than 30 + 20 * n, where n is the number of items purchased. The name of the use case represents a functional requirement. What does the product do, or enable the user to do? Purchase items. What are we to make of the preconditions and postconditions? What relationship do they have to the requirements for the product? Answer: the preconditions and postconditions are the nonfunctional requirements attached to the functional requirement . Another way of expressing the nonfunctional requirement would be as an attribute and associated constraint: Usability: For a Purchaser who types at least thirty words per minute and has a web navigation efficiency rating of at least 40, it shall take no

Henry Ford's "Faster Horse" Quote

You may have heard the ( apocryphal ) Henry Ford quote: If I'd asked customers what they wanted, they would have said "a faster horse". Over at the On Product Management blog , Saeed gives his take on this infamous quote. He "hates" it, and gives some compelling reasons. Saeed is spot on in his explanations. Personally, I think the quote is great, but it's a matter of interpretation. The valid point of the quote is not that it's a bad idea to facilitate a conversation with your market to better understand it. The valid points are: You must ask the right questions to get valuable answers. You must interpret the answers thoughtfully - often outside their direct meaning - to glean reliable information. Asking questions is not always the best way to "listen" to your market. (E.g., sometimes pure observational studies are more reliable.) Nonetheless, I find the quote is helpful to combat "armchair product management" in the