The best product is no product

By David Adams, Product Development Lead

White pencil on black platform

The best UX is no UX. The best code is no code. Pretty much everything I, and probably you, have worked on would be better if it wasn’t there.

What?

Ok, so I’m being a touch facetious. That’s not quite what I mean. I’m not saying there is no value in products or the work that we do. Just that they are a means rather than an end.

Nobody wants to buy a product. Nobody wants to use software.

What they want is to achieve a goal. That might be a social goal – connecting with friends, improving self-esteem. Or a functional goal – getting food to eat, paying an invoice. It could be anything in between. But at its core, it’s about solving a real problem someone has. Getting paid on time, finding love, improving your home; the needs have existed long before technology or products existed even as concepts.

Don’t create the wrong thing

There is a big difference between the things people will buy and the things that they need. There is also a big difference in the mindset of companies that are creating products in either of those categories.

Nobody needs a fridge that can browse the internet, a lightbulb that can change colour via an app, or a coffee machine that makes you coffee through the internet. These are all things that someone in an office somewhere decided that people love, so they should add. It’s evident in the proliferation of touch screens on an increasingly random selection of devices. Even when in some cases, especially cars, it reduces usability to the point of being dangerous.

How to create the right thing – the ideal state

“By looking at [problems] in a solution-neutral way, teams can consider the ideal state—a hypothetical, imaginary and perfect experience that is free of constraints, compromises and contradictions.” – Clayton Christensen (Harvard Business Review)

The point of all this is that whatever you are making, it serves only as a solution to a specific problem set and no more. Customers don’t care about your product, they just want you to get things done for them and get out of their way.

Using this as a lense, we can create far superior products, saving time and money. Focus on framing the problem a long time before you even start considering solutions.

Ideal state, backwards

Without any constraints on time, budget, people or technology what is the ideal state for a customer? Assuming you can’t achieve that, work backwards until you can. In most cases, you will have to work backwards a few steps until a product or technology even come into it. If then, and only then, you need to build something, get stuck in.

How can we do this with no code, no interface?

Always be asking how you can reduce your product to it’s simplest possible form.

The best interface is no interface

If your product is an app, the ideal interaction is for the user’s problem to be solved instantly, without any interaction. Nobody wants to record the calories they consume in a day. They want to be healthier, fitter or thinner. Interacting with an interface, in this case, is necessary now. But if you could do it from a photo, that’s better. If you could do it just from sensing what you have eaten with no interaction, that’s your ideal state. 99% of the time this isn’t possible, but if you frame the problem this way you will focus on building less.

The best code is no code

Software takes time to build, takes time to change and takes time to improve. It introduces risks of bugs, security breaches and maintenance costs. Every new feature introduces a maintenance cost, risks and customer support needs. Every decision to build something should not be taken lightly. You are inadvertently taking on a cost burden that you may not fully appreciate. The less you have to maintain the more you can focus on your real reason for existing. It’s certainly not for software.

Focus on outcomes

It’s unbelievable how so many people are happy to throw vast sums of money at rushing towards a hastily constructed roadmap. All without really knowing whether this will produce the needed outcome. Tell these people you need to spend more time planning or researching, you will likely be met with a blank stare. This is the reality of countless companies of all sizes.

Stay nimble

The good news is you have an advantage, staying laser focussed allows you to stay nimble, keep the team smaller for longer and build something your customers love. Taking this approach is not the easiest path in the short term, you will have to resist strong forces to just get ahead and start building.

You have scarce resources, scarce time and scarce money. Focus on building only what is necessary. The rest is the road to nowhere.

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