I’ve been thinking about the conflict between marketing and developers for some time, and then yesterday, I read an article by Don Norman about the death of simplicity that goes right to my point. Here’s a snippet:
It appears that marketing won the day. And I suspect marketing was right. Would you pay more money for a washing machine with less controls? In the abstract, maybe. At the store? Probably not.
Notice the question: “pay more money for a washing machine with less controls.” An early reviewer of this paper flagged the sentence as an error: “Didn’t you mean ‘more money’?” the reviewer asked? That question makes my point precisely. If a company spent more money to design and build an appliance that worked so well, so automatically, that all it needed was an on-off switch, people would reject it. “This simple looking thing costs more?” They would complain. “What is that company thinking of? I’ll buy the cheaper one with all those extra features — after all, it’s better, right? And I save money.”
Marketing rules — as it should, for a company that ignores marketing is a company soon out of business. Marketing experts know that purchase decisions are influenced by feature lists, even if the buyers realize they will probably never use most of the features. Even if the features confuse more than they help.
The idea of listening to marketing is a painful one for me, as a product developer. There’s a painful disconnect between what makes the most sense to me and what motivates customers to buy a product.
One of the best examples of designing software that looks good in a brochure is bumping up the number of anything that can be counted. If your competitor’s software can produce 100 different reports and your product can only produce 10 different reports, marketing is going to ask for more reports. It doesn’t matter if your 10 reports are the greatest thing since sliced bread, or that they more coherently present the same information that the competitor’s 100 reports display. To marketing, you’re 90 reports behind in the reports race.
The thing is, as much as it offends me aesthetically, the marketing guy may be right. When a sales rep is trying to sell that product to a customer, that customer will ask where those other 90 reports are, and they will probably dismiss any claims that your 10 reports make those other 90 reports obsolete as hand waving.
I do think that design is the wild card here. If your product is achingly beautiful, then you can jump out of the feature rat race. That’s why the iPod and the Mini and the KitchenAid Mixer are winners. Building products that transcend checklists, enables you to ignore marketing. Good luck with that.