Building features nobody wants

Have you ever built a feature because the business wants it but the user doesn’t? Have you ever built a feature because the user says they want it, but they don’t really need it? Have you ever built a feature the user doesn’t want and the business doesn’t want?

It doesn’t come about too often but sometimes you actually need to build features nobody wants.

In a recent project, we were building a financial forecasting tool. The user need was to know if they could afford purchases. We went through the motions showing them a detailed month and month outlook. Users found it hard to get the answer they were looking for having to understand all the data and make their own conclusion. We made a simple yes-no answer page without revealing the data, users got their answer but wouldn’t act on it.

Upon inspection, we discovered they didn’t trust such a simplistic view. “How did you figure that out?” or more regularly in cases where the answer didn’t align with their expectations we would hear “That’s not what we got, what are your workings?”. So, sure enough, we ended up with a design that included both the answer and then the data on a view full details screen.

Then we noticed something strange. Users stopped looking at the data, they didn’t seem interested anymore. How else could we show our calculations without showing them the data? Why has the simple screen started working all of a sudden?

What we found was users didn’t want to interrogate the data they just wanted to know it was there. Just knowing it was there gave them confidence they didn’t have when it wasn’t. The level of trust is heightened by having the open door to the data to the point nobody bothered taking a look inside. We could of released the feature on the details page as a ‘coming soon’ page for an age without anyone even realising, but crucially still giving the user confidence to act on their forecast.

This kind of emotional design can be quite difficult to articulate to your stakeholders because there appears to be nobody asking for it and the need isn’t pragmatic either. We were fortunate that the chronology of the research findings meant that we learnt this early enough to build a case while delivery of the mechanics of the forecast was being finished.

TYIT Ltd provides a full stack UX consultancy that designs accessible digital services. We've helped complex organisations like BEIS and DfE achieve digital transformation by running Lean and Agile discovery processes.

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