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Design: Beware feature competition

This is part 4 of a 5 part series on Design.

When building new features for an existing product, it can be tempting to design them in a vacuum. Many products can be complex, so limiting the factors you consider in designing a feature is a logical step in getting work done. However, customers see the features in the context of your larger product and how they feel about a feature is as dependent on that context as the feature itself.

The inverse is true when measuring your features using data. A product with many features will have feature competition, where features are competing with each other for the attention of the customer. For example, take a website with five features:

Feature Competition Layout Example of 5 features

If you measure the percentage of users who access each feature, we see the following usage statistics:

Feature Competition example with usage of all 5 featuresClearly Feature 3 and Feature 4 have extremely low usage! If you ignore feature competition, you might be tempted to give them a very low priority or eliminate them altogether.

However, if you were to remove Feature 2 and then watch user engagement the story might be very different:

Feature Competition example with only 4 features
Now we see that Features 3 and 4 are highly utilized and in fact Feature 3 is used by more customers than Feature 5!

This example is based on a real life analysis, where Feature 2 was dominating the interface and customers were overlooking Features 3 and 4 entirely. Instead of removing 3 and 4, a better layout was needed to reduce the competition between Feature 2 and other features and better allow the customer’s attention to spread.

It may not be possible to completely remove features as part of your testing as we did in this example, but it is usually possible to change the layout of features and do customer tests to see how they affect feature utilization. The more that the relative orientation of your features change usage habits, the more feature competition you have in your product.

For your product, regardless of type, it is important to be able to understand how feature competition is affecting usage. Your customers will not all have the time and attention you spend when using your own product, so you need to make sure your measurements and design account for it.

Quote of the Day: “There is no competition of sounds between a nightingale and a violin.” ― Dejan Stojanovic