Giving users what they want… or what they need

My preschool son loves all the Herbie movies. He gets excited anytime he sees a VW Beetle and yells “Herbie!” and then proceeds to tell us all about him: “Herbie is a racecar.” “Herbie’s wheels and lights.”  You get the idea. We’ve been toying with the idea of getting him a Herbie of his own and finally decided to do it after a string of really good accomplishments (sleeping better, being good in preschool, potty training, etc.).

Two nights ago, we were walking downtown and saw a red, vintage Beetle. My son gets so excited that we run across the street to say “hello.” He proceeds to tell us to get the keys and get in the car. He wanted to drive. He wanted this Herbie. Little did he know his own version of Herbie was coming in the mail the next day.

Herbie - "first release"However, his version of Herbie is not a full size car. It’s a small ride on. It’s not exactly the right style (more like a modern VW). It’s not even the right color. Also, it has a parental override…. a remote control so we can make sure he’s safe. This is not what he asked for…. but its what he needed.

He still loves it. It’s the right size for him. He can reach the pedals. He can steer. It has a funny horn sound and blinking lights. He is disappointed in the color. So, for the “next release” we will update his new toy with a white paint job and Herbie decals – already arrived from Ebay. However, overall, he is thrilled with it.

Now, I’m not saying that all users are like preschoolers. However, as usability professionals, we know our users will sometimes ask for more than they could want or need. Some features, no matter how cool they sound, are just not the right thing to include. Some features would actually hinder the user’s interaction with the software. For example, would it make sense to give my little boy a full sized VW? No way! Its much too powerful and big for him. His new little bug is just right!

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