Much of the BatchBlue staff recently attended the BIF3 conference here in Providence. It was a great event – sort of an informal lecture series with a group of diverse and successful (some famous, some not) innovators from a tech start-up to a tool manufacturer to a few government agencies (yes, they really can be innovative, too!). It was an exercise in thinking outside the box (or inside a well defined new box as speaker Dan Heath challenged us to do).
Many folks have done a great job of rounding up some of the major ideas coming out of the conference. One theme, and an idea that we put much stock in here at BatchBlue is the philosophy of simple software. That software (and other products) are better if they remain simple. William Taylor, cofounder and founding editor of Fast Company and author of the recently published Mavericks at Work nicely summarized the gist of it on the Xconomy web site.
But I think the challenge is not just in keeping software simple, but in keeping it targeted to the right audience. Bloatware, another term for software that has become unwieldy in it’s over-complication, comes when companies try to be all things to all people. They throw it out to anyone who ever has/will/might buy their product to suggest new features and then disappoint them all with an unwieldy solution. It may be that your customer base requires a very complex software solution (pharmaceutical companies mapping targeting strategies for new antibodies) or a very simple one (9th graders tracking chemical reactions in lab class). Can you imagine the product that would serve both audiences well?
The other challenge for a business is to know when to let the customer in on the development conversation. I heard a quip recently that “you would not want the pilot to survey the passengers when deciding when to land the plane”. Good point. I’m paying Big Giant Airline Company a lot of money to put a well trained, highly skilled, confident and capable person in the cockpit each time I board the plane. I trust him/her to do the job without any feedback from me. But I do think Big Giant Airline Company should know (and care) that I really hate having to futz around for $2 to buy any type of snack on my 4 hour flight or that I won’t fly with them if they don’t allow pre-boarding for my 3 kids.
So it really comes down to knowing your audience, staying focused on them, understanding their abilities and giving them the right solutions. Simple is good if you keep it relative to your audience’s needs and comfort level.