By Frank Spillers

Light Phone 2- a minimalist design

Summary: Feature-rich UI's run the risk of doing too much and being difficult for users to discover. The cure is to remove features and replace them with tasks. Task-features anchor your feature sets in what users want to do, not what you think they want from you. 

Popularity is building for a new minimalist smartphone called a 'dumb-phone' aka the Light Phone 2 (pictured above). The phone was deliberately designed without social media apps, to reflect the growing problem of smartphone addiction. The minimalist design strategy of this product offers a good reflection point to consider your 'dumb-phone' strategy for minimalizing feature creep and getting results from Flat Design approaches. 

How we got addicted to designing for features

Software marketers, product manager, developers and designers are historically locked in feature set building. Software marketers in the 1990's developed a habit of marketing features. This was before the influence of usability or UX/UI at the product or organizational level.  The result was that product teams started with a focus on features and solving user's needs or use cases (and edge cases) with features. For every problem state, a feature was developed. The rampant feature creep approach has died out to a large extent, but it still exists especially in teams lacking in a strong UX or usability program

Since tasks drive user behavior, not features, it is important to get rid of features that get in the way. This avoids users having to spend time on discovering the feature or how it works. This problem is called discoverability in UX jargon. 

How to undo feature creep and get your "featuritis" under control 

Featuritis defined: Featuritis means there are too many features and it is not clear to a user how to complete a task. Featuritis is a symptom of a design and development approach that problem solves by adding more parts to the "Swiss Army knife" (tool driven vs task driven). 

As we discussed in the post "Feature frenzy"- 10 tips to getting feature creep under control it is important to convert features to tasks both in your thinking, UI and strategy. We call them "Task-features". Another useful tool we teach in our UX Training is the Feature Remover Exercise.

The Feature Remover Exercise

While this is a training exercise, we have had teams report doing it as a 'Thought Experiment' to see what happens and they have reported breakthrough results in design decision- making. Remember our inspiration here is the dumb-phone: deliberate and intentional minimalism. 

Goal: remove 6 features and see if anyone notices.
Step 1: Remove 2 non-essential features
Add one important task
Step 2: Remove 2 more less essential features
Add one more important task
Step 3: Remove 2 additional important features
Add two more less important tasks


The power of the Feature Remover Exercise is that you don't just remove, but you add valuable tasks back

If you are using this for Flat Design, be careful of this issue that is part of the Google Material Design guidelines. Cheat sheet: Clean up your UI (think blank) then add back "Signifiers" (subtle cues that signal to the user how to use the UI). 

Learn more about how to get minimalism right at the UI level with this Webinar: The Pros and Cons of Flat Design