Application Development: How to Make Sure You Don’t Drive Users Crazy

When you develop an application, sometimes it can be difficult to not fill your product with every feature you can think of, but it’s important to know when to stop. Many applications-most of which are not successful-suffer from bloated designs, and their users often have no idea what to do with half of it. Balance and prioritization are paramount in custom software development, especially in the mobile space.

Instagram, for example, offers a wide range of filters and options, but is simple to grasp, and doesn’t overdo it. Most people stick to tweaking their photos with filters, and leave it at that. What Instagram didn’t do was cram options like those found in the built-in iOS photo editor, which is significantly more robust. Most people won’t use all of the features it has to offer. The average user doesn’t want to mess with horizon lines or black points; they just want to take a photo, choose a filter that makes them look their best, and then upload it to share it with their friends. In this case, less is more. It’s hard to argue with Instagram’s success.

When you add features to your application with wild abandon, you’re not necessarily doing your users any favors. Even if every single one of those features work as intended, the additional weight that’s added with each extra feature can really bog the application down. It can make things difficult to navigate-partly because nobody likes nested menus-and slow to load. Worse, those features may just sit, unused or unnoticed, because your users don’t actually bother with them. That means that you wasted time and resources building part of a product for nothing-something no company can afford to do.

But how do you know when to stop?

Go back to application basics

If you want your application to be successful, you need to be able to identify the core function. Again, to use Instagram as an example, that core function is photo sharing; people use it to share pictures with their friends and followers, and users can comment back and forth on them.

By contrast, the iOS Photos app is designed to manage your photo library directly from your phone or iPad, which invites a deeper level of editing. The complexity of its feature offering is justified because that is part of its intent. Both of these apps have been wildly successful because all of the apps’ features support the core function rather than distract from it.

What’s your app’s core function? If you can’t identify it plainly-not necessarily in a single word, but close to it-then you shouldn’t be adding features.

Add features that will enhance that part of the application experience

Your app may never be “complete.” Facebook has redesigned their whole interface and introduced a range of new features pretty much annually, and that’s not going to slow down any time soon. The same is true, in varying degrees, for many apps.

When you’re designing your application, your features need to be tightly focused on your core user experience. What are your users going to spend their time doing with their app? How can you make that aspect of it better?

When you think about adding a feature, you should consider what kind of effect it will have on this core purpose. Will it even have an effect? If not, then it’s probably best not to include it.

What you can do during application development to prevent user frustration

Sometimes you just have to include a particular feature, for competitive reasons, or because users will expect it to be there. Maybe it’s not perfectly in line with your custom application’s core concept, but it’s hopefully at least related. Assuming that it’s a good idea to even include it, there’s a new problem to consider: How do you tell your users how to use it?

Some software development companies like to include a big, weighty options menu that lets you disable all of their extra features-which are automatically enabled at the point of download. This can be frustrating for users, because their expectations may be different than you assume.

Do they want twelve separate notifications when they drive past the dozen coffee shops on their way to work? Probably not, but your CaffeiNation app-which, in this fictional example, is an application that finds the nearest coffee shop-has that option enabled by default, and the only way to turn it off is by finding the “disable push notifications” button somewhere in the settings menu.

Instead of bothering to do that, an average user would likely just uninstall it. I’ve done the same to countless applications that had similar things-Peel Smart Remote is an offender I just removed, because it kept sending push notifications to my phone, reminders to watch things that I have zero interest in (I don’t need to see Olympic Dressage, though I respect the training and dedication that it requires). I couldn’t find the option to disable those notifications, so I just uninstalled it.

What would have worked much better-and would have likely kept me as a user-would have been a context-sensitive option that was introduced to me at the right time. If I’m using the remote to set up a recording for, say, Game of Thrones, then it would have been useful-and kind of cool-if a little window popped up and gave me the option to enable notifications for that show.

In-context suggestions will feel as though they are tailored specifically to the end user’s experience. These work far better in terms of feature integration than the top-down method many applications employ. Users want to use your application the way they want to use it. As long as they remain a user, you don’t need to complicate their experience with bulky add-ons that just get in the way-and drive them nuts.

Just remember this: your app is not going to be the only one in your users’ lives. They have a lot of things to deal with, and using yours shouldn’t be a burden, or a hassle to configure to their liking. Your application should aim to provide that core function while making your average user’s life just a little bit easier-and never worse.