July 17th, 2007
Way back in 1997, I wrote about a framework we’d been developing, which we called Market Maturity. We had created the framework to help explain why we had to approach teams differently, not depending on what they were developing, but on where their products were in the marketplace.
The framework was a simple four-stage progression:
- Stage I: Raw Iron — A focus on getting the technology working
- Stage II: Checklist Battles — A focus on getting the right features
- Stage III: Productivity Wars — A focus on getting the right experience
- Stage IV: Transparency — A focus on integration into bigger experiences
Once we figured this progression out, it became clear that practically every technology followed it. It explained the progression of word processors, automobiles, commercial jets, military weapons, telephones, and anything else man has developed in the last hundred years. Some technologies moved through the progression quickly, others took years.
It was really useful to refer to the framework when talking to clients because, back when we were consulting firm helping with usability research, our pitch would change depending on which stage they were in. We’d talk about identifying important features in Stage II, where we’d talk about shipping sooner (often by eliminating unnecessary features) in Stage I. In Stage III, we’d talk about traditional UCD notions of ease-of-use and ease-of-learning (which, interestingly, don’t become important to talk about until Stage III).
We stopped talking about the framework in the late ’90s because we were doing more web work and we weren’t sure if the framework applied to the web. At the time, we couldn’t see the progression, but we now know that it was because we were stuck in the middle of Stage I and it’s hard to see what’s coming from where you are.
Now, more than ten years later, we’re finding ourselves talking about the framework once again. Time has let us simplify it:
- Stage I is now Technology
- Stage II is now Features
- Stage III is now Experience
- Stage IV is now Integration
(As we get older, we realize cute names for things just obscure instead of enhance their meaning.)
We can see this clearly on the web now:
- Early sites just focused on the mechanics of getting the site working
- Then sites focused on having a plethora of features
- Now we’re seeing a push to reducing the number of features and a focus on the experience
- Some sites are beginning to get sucked into other experiences (for example, Writely.com becomes part of Google Office)
Web 2.0 is definitively a push from Stage II to Stage III. The abundance of small, simple web applications using interface technologies such as Flash, Flex, and Ajax (and soon Adobe’s AIR and Microsoft’s Silverlight) is predicted clearly by the framework: developers stop piling more features into the product, instead focusing on simpler, yet more usable, designs. Compare 37Signal’s Basecamp to Microsoft’s Office/Project/Sharepoint solution to the same problem.
LessFewer functions, better experience.
(It’s not just the web where we’re seeing this now: the mobile phone world was stuck in a feature-intense Stage II until the experience-focused iPhone came along; the game console space was all about putting better hardware in the box until the Wii suggested a less-hardware-but-better-experience approach.)
Once again, our framework is gaining traction. I was sitting in a keynote by Peter Merholz at the recent Web Design World and what does he start talking about? Technology -> Features -> Experience. He also makes it a centerpiece of his great article for Core77. And others are starting to talk of it too.
It’s an important framework. We think everyone should become familiar with it, since it is the roadmap we’re following.Tweet