When Bracken and I decided to start Less Annoying Software, I left my full-time job so that I could dedicate most of my time to building our customer manager, but I still do some consulting work for my old company. For the past two weeks I've been spending some time redesigning their signup process. It recently became clear that I spent the past 20 hours of work designing screens that we won't actually use, and I couldn't be happier. I spend a lot of time on this blog preaching the value of simplicity and I'm not sure I've ever seen a better example of how great simplicity can really be.
The section of the form that I was redesigning started out with about 6 screens that went into unnecessary detail and were pretty confusing. The form worked perfectly well, but it was designed with an emphasis on functionality rather than user experience. My first attempt at redesigning the section led to mockups of three different pages that were all kind of complicated. I spent some time making the user interface more intuitive and it turned into four pages that were all incredibly simple. I thought I was done. The signup process was much easier and I was happy with the results.
When I showed the mockups to someone working on the project with me, he said, "why do we need these forms at all?" It turns out we were collecting a bunch of information that we didn't really need. It took about two minutes of conversation to decide to completely remove the section from the signup process which meant throwing away my work. Awesome.
I spent about 20 hours designing these pages and I was really proud of the new form I came up with, so why am I so happy to see everything thrown away?
I'm happy because it means I accomplished my task. It wasn't even my idea to remove that entire section from the signup, but my goal was to improve the user experience of the signup process, and now it's way better. That's all there is to it. It's hard to remember this when you're working on a project, but the user won't see all the work you put in. Users won't know how many people worked together or how many hours it took. They'll only know if they liked the product, and getting rid of six pages from the signup process will certainly make them like it more.
I personally feel much better about spending 20 hours of work removing needless features than I would if I had spent 20 hours adding needless features. My instinct was to defend my work and come up with reasons to keep the pages I made, but that's what gets so many software companies into real trouble with feature bloat.
If 20 hours of work leads to a two minute conversation which makes all the work obsolete, but also simplifies the product, that's time well spent.