Your most recent feature probably should NOT be the most prominent element of your UI
May 31, 2011
A colleague once showed me the main toolbar for an app they worked on, and offered an archeological exposition of when and why each button had been added. The first three buttons represented the app’s core functionality, and had been on the toolbar since the app’s first release. All the other toolbar buttons had been added in successive releases. Each time one of those features were added, it had been deemed vitally important to give the feature prominent placement on the toolbar. There those buttons had remained to the present day. But when the team monitored click-through across all toolbar buttons, the first three buttons accounted for nearly all user clicks. Those other buttons were permanent meaningless clutter, doomed to forever confuse and distract users from the first three, meaningful buttons.
When adding a new feature to an app, there’s an almost irresistible tendency to put that new feature front and center in the UI. After all:
- Your customers may have been begging for it for months, or years.
- You and the entire product team have been actively thinking about, and working on, that big new feature non-stop for many months.
- You are all proud of the new feature.
- Your team may be convinced this feature represents the difference between business success and failure.
- You don’t want existing users to overlook this much-requested feature when it’s finally available.
But, wait—is this new feature really so important that it should now be the dominant element in your UI?
- It’s unlikely that in the user’s mind your new feature is more important than the app’s core function. You most likely established that core function of your app very early on, probably in the very first release. It’s unlikely that you want to decrease the chance that users successfully find and use that function.
- Once users learn how to find your new feature now, they’ll still expect to be able to find it that way a year from now—when you’re trying to release the next new big feature. What are the odds that, at that time, the feature that’s new today will still be so vitally important?
- It’s incredibly hard to muster the will to strip out a UI element.
It’s appropriate to make a new feature visible; just make sure that, from a user perspective, the prominence of the entry point for the feature corresponds to its priority in the updated app’s overall functionality.