"Everything Starts Out Looking Like a Toy" (No. 64)
Design features with the end user in mind, not the feature designer
This week’s toy: a way to review tv series visually with a heat map of the IMDB scores by episode and find out once and for all if that episode of your favorite show was liked or disliked by IMDB members. You might find that your intuition about mid-season filler episodes is accurate. Edition No. 64 of this newsletter is here - it’s October 18, 2021.
The Big Idea
Photography is changing, again. The macro ability in the iPhone 13 Pro series does some really interesting things with sleight of hand to deliver amazing images like the one below. It’s all about giving you options to change the point of view.
Making Choices on Behalf of the User
What does it mean to believe you are making objective choices on behalf of the user, and that they are good? It means you have taken an opinionated view of the job they are trying to do, that you are measuring something by taking a guess from the available information, and that you are delivering a product experience that is aimed at what most people want to do. Typically, you are not customizing the experience to what the power users or the most inexperienced users need to do. You are - however - offering affordances for them as well.
Consider the idea of Macro Photography. Ben Sandofsky of Halide writes a wonderful piece about how the lens of the iPhone has changed with the new hardware in the iPhone 13 Pro.
Macro photography is not new. As Sandofsky shares,
Well, ‘macro’ came from an article written in 1899 about high magnification photography. The author called anything magnified more than 10× “photo-micrography,” and anything less was “photo-macrography.”
What’s new is the ability to get images that look pretty great at optical zoom while not having a specialized lens unable to focus on subjects farther away.
The iPhone being able to take macro pictures is not new. What’s new is that 1) it is getting better at doing that by using some trickery with its other installed lenses and 2) it’s not “asking” the user to switch.
When you Zoom in on an iPhone, it switches the lens automatically to achieve the macro zoom. This means when you are doing this you are using a slightly different lens - the 24mm wide angle one - and your composition is slightly different. But you trade that off for the ability to get tight focus on a very small object.
Should we be asking the user?
The impact of this change is that the phone is making choices for the user based on environmental cues (light, distance, object sensing, focus) and presenting them as “the nominal” choice. Is this good? If you believe that the end goal is making beautiful pictures and that the photographer will adjust if she wants to customize the settings, this is a pretty great outcome.
If you believe that the photographer needs complete control and changing the lens changes the composition irreparably, you probably need to be using a different camera than the iPhone where you can select a hardware lens that meets your need.
When we make these choices in software, though, should we be asking the user? Barry Schwartz’s classic talk “the paradox of choice” suggests there’s a hard limit for the number of choices we can make in a day. With this in mind, we need to help the user or else they will probably give up.
Balancing the expected outcome
What’s the bigger picture when you are designing features for a product?
Here are a few ideas:
Don’t design the feature for you. Do design the feature so that the target user is more likely to try it and be successful.
Don’t assume that having more ways to do things is always better. Do make it possible for the user to discover how to do it
When in doubt, ask a user to achieve the outcome (not “do the task” or “try the feature” and see what happens. While this is unfolding, wait. Do not talk, even though seeing them fail may be painful. You’ll learn something ;)
What’s the takeaway? Always focus on the point of view of the user. They may need extra help to achieve the job to be done, even if the original task didn’t anticipate the help.
A Thread from This Week
Twitter is an amazing source of long-form writing, and it’s easy to miss the threads people are talking about.
This week’s thread: on the persistence of immunity after a vaccine …
Links for Reading and Sharing
These are links that caught my eye.
1/ 30/30/30 ftw - The 30/30/30 rule suggested by Srinivas Krishnamurti at ProductBoard is a way to organize your priorities for product. Simply put, you need to spend some time on new features (things that will move the product forward and grow your audience), tech debt (avoid things that will hold the product back) and retention (keeping the users you have). This means making sure you file bugs every day in addition to working on your PRDs.
2/ Curiosity beats Smarts - Stop for a moment and think of the last time you solved a problem with sheer intellectual horsepower. Ivaylo Durmonski makes a great case for cultivating your curiosity. By opening your mind to be curious, you are more likely to try things without worrying if they are smart. See what happens.
3/ Go Outside - If you’re looking for a prompt that will help you become more curious on the regular, try going outside. Your brain will get smarter:
When we take a walk outside, the fractal rhythms of our heart synchronize with the fractal rhythms of our lungs and our fractal gait. Researchers have also shown that our wandering bodies make our minds wander too. On a walk, our brain waves slow down.
On the Reading/Watching List
Watching: a review of the iPhone 13 from a photographer’s perspective. The gap between typical mirrorless cameras and the iPhone is narrowing, again. There’s still a reason to have an extra camera for certain shots, and the difference is based on lenses. The computational ability of the iPhone is also changing the way we think about “cameras.”
Reading: McKinsey’s breakdown of the food ordering market. It’s not surprising that food delivery has been very popular.
Who’s winning? It’s not the restaurants, unless they raise prices to compensate for the delivery platform cost to go along with the labor, real estate, and food costs. It’s not the platforms, yet. They have customers but haven’t figured out how to make a profit or deliver the food in a way that supports the on-demand delivery workers. It’s probably the customers, who have more options than ever before.
What to do next
Hit reply if you’ve got links to share, data stories, or want to say hello.
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The next big thing always starts out being dismissed as a “toy.” - Chris Dixon