Software functionality: striking the right balance

Technology might make life easier, but the temptation to continuously add functionality can push technology from simple to overcomplicated. What’s the best way to maintain a balanced approach? Emily Chen writes.

As someone whose working life revolves around software, I often reflect on the need for balance between software being easy to use and increasing its functionality.

These aren’t mutually exclusive - there’s a sweet spot - but there’s also a tipping point.

Finding the balance between software design and functionality is tricky. Apple’s new Iphone 11 Pro is a brilliant piece of kit. Beautifully designed, it’s full of functionality and a camera that instantly turns anyone into the next Ansell Adams.

The latest version of Apple’s mobile operating system, iOS 13.1.2 is perhaps not so great. The update was intended to bring a range of new features, including dark mode and swipe to type, but Apple's support forums and Twitter account are filling with performance complaints from iPhone users. Even Apple, the standard bearer for good design, doesn’t always get it right.

Not long ago some of our users told us that the amount of functionality we’d put into a piece of our software was making it harder to use and harder to navigate.

Since then we’ve increased our focus on users to inform and test product design, culminating in the launch of Iress Labs.

Even Apple, the standard bearer for good design, doesn’t always get it right.

It starts with listening to the users in Iress Labs, where we continuously check in with them to better understand their needs, and what they want from their software. This vital step helps us make sure we stay on the happy side of functionality, and avoid anything unnecessary or outdated.

We also look outside the industry for inspiration. And we use product discovery techniques such as design sprints (a process where teams look at critical business questions, scope and challenges of a product over an intense period), to ensure we have a deep understanding of the problem we’re trying to solve.

Technology should make life easier and better. It should reduce repetitive tasks, improve performance, reduce costs.

Ultimately it works best if it’s built via a design process that includes constant feedback, testing and implementation.

The role of users in the design process continues to evolve and change. And for us - and for all software companies - we’re continuously learning.