Claremont Insider: Feature Creep

Friday, May 25, 2007

Feature Creep

No, we're not spotlighting local politicians. We saw this term the other day in a New Yorker article by James Suroweicki, whom we've written about before. Feature creep is the tendency of products to become more complex because consumers seem to want more and more features.

So you get the digital camera with the novel-length instuction manual, only to discover it's too complex to understand its use. If you keep the camera, you might only use a fraction of those amazing features, or the camera ends up sitting on the shelf or it gets returned. Suroweicki cited one study by Elke den Ouden, for example, that showed that when U.S. consumers returned a device because they couldn't figure out how to use it, they spent only 20 minutes trying to work it.

We want one thing, but when we get it, we really want something else--something simpler and easier to use. Suroweicki writes that one problem is that other studies have shown that people aren't really very good at knowing what will make them happy.

Manufacturers should know what consumers will like, but they tend to design to what consumers think they want, which turns out to really be two different things. The relationship with cities and the services they provide to citizens is really no different. Groups like the Claremont 400 want the latest goo-gaws with all the bells and whistles, no matter what the reality will be 20 years hence. So, they push a $10 million-plus sports park when demographics show an increasingly shrinking youth population at the same time the 55-and-over group is on the rise.

Similarly, Claremont several years ago looked into the possibility of providing a municipal Wi-Fi service. Today, as the LA Times recently reported, cities like Lompoc are having to pour money into their Wi-Fi services because they're greatly under-utilized.

Simple appears to be better, whether it's a city service or an iPhone, as this commercial that appeared on Late Night with Conan O'Brien shows: