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Interesting article..

=2D--------- Forwarded Message ----------

=2D----Original Message-----
=46rom: USABILITY TESTING COMMUNITY [mailto:UTEST-L@CLEMSON.EDU] On Behalf =
Of
Chauncey Wilson
Sent: Sunday, February 05, 2006 5:15 AM
To: UTEST-L@CLEMSON.EDU
Subject: Harvard Business Review Article on Features versus Usability

The February 2006 edition of the Harvard Business Review (Rust, R. T.,
Thompson, D. V. & Hamilton, R. W, 2006, pages 98-107) has an article on the
topic
of features versus usability. The question that the article addresses is
"Why
do companies keep adding features to already complex products?" The
article
started off with a description of an enhanced mouse pad that one of the
authors received that was loaded with features. It was a mouse
pad/clock/calculator/FM radio. The authors noted that included a set of
headphones, but no
batteries. The author wondered why a simple and useful device like a mouse
pad
would suffer severe feature bloat. Several reasons for given for "feature
bloat" - adding features is cheap because memory and processing chips are
getting so powerful, early adopters (often the beta testers) are not
typical and
often enjoy the challenge of new features, and marketers who are paid to
understand consumer behavior believe that "more is better" because of their
training in traditional modeing techniques where adding more positively
valued
features makes a product more appealing. The article notes that many market
research techniques view products as packages of attributes that have an
assumption
that more is better (they mention conjoint analysis for example).

Three studies were conducted by the authors to understand why "consumers
keep buying products they will live to curse" (p. 101). The first study
examined
what appeals to customers and concluded that: "Consumers know that
products
with more features are harder to use, but before they purchase a product,
they valued it capability more than its usability." (p. 102).

In a second study, they gave users a chance to customize a new digital
audio
or video player with up to 25 additional features. They found that even
when consumers had a choice about what additional features they can have on
a
product, they still loaded on the features with a major regard for the
decreasing usability that would result from the added complexity of all the
optional
features.

In the final study, consumers were given a product that was simple or
complex and then compared choices of players before and after they used
them. They
found that people went for features, but after they actually used the
product their preferences changed and usability became very important.

So the main result is that even though people are cognizant of the
relationship between more features and decreasing usability, they make
purchase
decisions based on feature lists. After using a product, their satisfaction
with
the product is based on its usability and not the feature list. The
recommendations based on the results of the three studies are:

1. "Consider long-term customer equity and not just customers' initial
choices." (p. 106)
2. "Build simpler products." (p. 106). They cite Philips Electronics as a
company doing this with a "Simplicity Advisory Board".
3. "Give consumers decision aids." (p. 107). These aids might include
extended trials or recommendation agents who are savvy about users' long-run
needs.
4. "Design products that do one thing very well." (p. 107). They cite the
iPod as an example of a device that meets this goal.
5. "Use prototypes and product-in-use research." (p. 107). This simple
recommendation is to give people actual products or prototypes to test over
an
extended time to bring out the importance of usability.

The article also presents a sidebar with some math that indicates the
relationship between the number of features and customers responses for 3
conditions:

1. Maximizing initial sales (more features will tend to do this)
2. Maximizing repeat sales (fewer features and more usability).
3. Maximizing customers' lifetime value (a moderate number of features
that
allow a person to get a balance between capability and usability).

This was a good readible study.

There is an abstract available at
_http://harvardbusinessonline.hbsp.harvard.edu/hbrsa/en/hbrsaLogin.jhtml;jse
ssionid=3DHPHMQ50W4YBYEAKRGWCB5VQBKE0YIIPS?ID=3DR0
602E&path=3D&pubDate=3Dnull&referral=3Dnull&_requestid=3D51726_
(http://harvardbusinessonline.hbsp.ha...ogin.jhtml;jse
ssionid=3DHPHMQ50W4YBYEAKR
GWCB5VQBKE0YIIPS?ID=3DR0602E&path=3D&pubDate=3Dnull&referral=3Dnull&_reques=
tid=3D51726
)

You can order reprints from the page where you find the abstract.

Chauncey

=2D------------------------------------------------------

=2D-=20
Celeste Lyn Paul
KDE Usability Project
usability.kde.org

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