Does the "less but better" rule still apply to modern product design?

Does the "less but better" rule still apply to modern product design?
Photo by Prateek Katyal

"Less is more" and "Less but better" are popular statements among product creators. The last one was coined by legendary industrial designer Dieter Rams. There are two different opinions about that statement. Some product creators believe that adding more features to the products they design adds more value to users. Others think that great products do one thing but do it better than the others.

Which opinion is correct? Let’s find it in this article.

More features = more value ?

When a team tries to add a lot of features to the product, they likely face the following problems:

  • High risk of feature creep. Adding a new feature to a product isn't free; it requires time and effort. Most of the time, it's hard or nearly impossible to design a lot of features with the same level of quality. So it's relatively easy to end up with a situation when you release a poorly designed product on the market.
  • Users can ignore the majority of features. People simply ignore features they don't use. For example, the iPhone offers more than 20 default apps out of the box, but how many of them are really used.
  • It can be difficult to remove existing features. You can face a lot of criticism from your users when you try to remove features they use, even when it's a relatively small percentage of users.

Does following the rule "less but better" guarantee good design?

Does it mean that we will guarantee product success when we reduce our feature set to absolutely necessary? No, it doesn't. The rule "less is better" is less about the features we add to a product but more about how we generally think about product design. The idea is to make product design more focused because by doing that, we will maximize the chance of success.

Here are a few things that we can do to make our product design more focused:

1. Learn to say "no" to feature request

Business: "Can we add this new feature?"

Designer: "No, we cannot."

Can you imagine this dialog? Probably not. When designers receive a request to add new features, they start to think about how to bake it naturally in the product, not about whether this feature makes sense in the first place.

It's true that in some cases, designers simply don't have an option to say "no" because they are not invited to a dialogue with business. But when they do, they should be active participants, not passive observers.

2. Identify features that bring value to users/business

Business: “Can we add this new feature?”

Designer: “No, we cannot”

Business: “Why?”

You cannot simply say "no"; you should provide solid arguments for your opinion. It becomes easier to answer the "why?" question when you know what features bring the most value to users and businesses. When you have data showing how users interact with the products you build, it becomes much easier for you to say "no" to new feature requests.

3. Focus on creating a minimum lovable product (MLP)

When we design a new product, we start with creating a minimum viable product (MVP). With all the focus that we put on functionality we want to offer, we often forget about the emotions that our product should evoke. But emotions play a tremendous role in how users feel about our design.

There is a massive difference between MVP and MLP, which is about emotions that design evokes. While MVP is all about offering relevant functionality, MLP is about offering relevant functionality and making users feel good while interacting with a product. Instead of investing your time and effort in creating new features, you can improve the design of existing features and, by doing that, move your product to the next level.

Attention to detail is what makes your product feel special. Image by Gleb Kuznetsov