Kill The Settings, Build Opinionated Software

Your app has too many settings, too many things to tweak. API endpoints? Colors of the rainbow? 100 different fonts and font sizes? Temperature in Kelvin? Switch the app to use Esperanto?

Kill the settings, kill them all.

Your Vision Is Your Software

You're the developer, build what you want. Your app should be an expression of your opinions. Jason Fried from 37signals shares this thought as well. Here's what he had to say in his first book Getting Real:

Some people argue software should be agnostic. They say it's arrogant for developers to limit features or ignore feature requests. They say software should always be as flexible as possible.

We think that's bullshit. The best software has a vision. The best software takes sides. When someone uses software, they're not just looking for features, they're looking for an approach. They're looking for a vision. Decide what your vision is and run with it.

And remember, if they don't like your vision there are plenty of other visions out there for people. Don't go chasing people you'll never make happy.

His company has made millions of dollars leaving out the fluff that others love to include. They built their first application Basecamp to satisfy their own needs and left out the features they didn't think were important. Jason considers his team software curators, continually trimming and editing features down to their essence. They build opinionated software.

Trim The Fat

If there's a choice between setting a value to A or B, and you always choose A, why not just make A the main, unsettable, unchangeable choice? If you think A is the best decision, why even let people choose B? Well, in App Store land, people like to whine about B. They'll post 1-star reviews asking when B will exist and say that they'll bump it up to a 5-star review when B is implemented. Others will see that review and ask about C, or D, because they think those are equally important.

This is all bullshit.

You're the developer. Everything is up to you. Apple doesn't listen to users and they're the most successful technology company in the world. They have a fearless leader who's not afraid to piss people off by removing floppy drives or buttons on a mouse. He's not afraid to scrap successful, acclaimed products and start over from the ground up. He builds what he wants because he knows he's building great stuff. That's what you should do, too.

Recently, Iconfactory announced that they're rewriting and rethinking their flagship Twitter application, Twitterrific:

The previous design ended up being overwhelming for normal users (and even some experienced ones) and became very confusing for people with multiple accounts since it was unclear which account was performing a search or looking at trending topics. There were also three different areas to set preferences and many of the options in the preferences were unnecessary and confusing to most users so they were avoided or left to defaults anyhow. So we took a leap and removed the preferences completely, only adding them back in when we found something that absolutely needed it.

Here's a comparison screenshot between the old Settings options and the new, completely slimmed-down version. They gutted their Settings; they're nearly gone. This takes a lot of guts and you can only do this if you really know what kind of software you want to build. You've gotta have the big picture in your head and you have to know where you won't compromise. Inevitably some power users may be upset but the Iconfactory is looking at the overall user experience and that matters more than what some tech bloggers think.

Power Users Don't Matter, Build For The Masses

Feature lists and pages of settings get a small segment of power users excited, not regular users. Regular users want elegant, smart software that just works right without having to fiddle with any additional settings. A perfect example is multitasking in Android vs. iOS 4.0. Apple waited to introduce multitasking because they didn't want to build a system where background apps drain the battery. Compare this to Android: just a few weeks ago Larry Page said that some background apps will drain your battery if you let them. Multitasking in Android was built solely for power users who are expected to force-quit apps and manage their phone's radios in order to maximize battery life. (Here are 20 tips to improve an HTC Evo's battery life.) Jobs made the call to build multitasking the way he saw fit, not the way the tinkerers and phone hackers wanted.

Don't compromise your vision, don't compromise your opinion. If you think 12px font looks best in an interface, don't allow people to move it to 10px. If you could never picture yourself changing a setting to anything else but A, don't even give the option to change it to B. Just don't do it. Build software for you. There are many, many people out there just like you who will appreciate it.

Build what you want.

Featured Project

Design Then Code