Monthly Archives: June 2013

Pareto Principle

…or the 80-20 rule as it is also known. I am not fully convinced that it holds true; that 80% of your profits come from 20% of your clients, that 80% of the work is done by 20% of the staff, and that 80% of the peas come from just 20% of the pods. But when designing software, I think you need to keep the Pareto principle in mind.

As we add features to our product, we usually sit down and have a meeting about how to create the UI to enable a user to accomplish some task. As we wireframe the UI, people around the table will come up with additional ideas, and point out weaknesses in the design. But quite often, the longest discussions are about what I call “fringe use”. The reality is that people tend to imagine that they are going to use a lot more functionality than they actually do. Since the feature is not in the product, we really don’t know if they are going to use it, and there really isn’t any scientific way of knowing if people will actually use a function. Merely Asking people simply doesn’t work, and we can’t really do A/B testing on software such as ours.

We might not spend 80% of our time discussing and designing UIs for the 20% (or less) that will actually use the feature, but we certainly spend a lot more time designing for the minority, than the expected revenue from these border cases seems to justify.

While the 20% might be getting a good deal, there are more serious consequences. The 80% that really don’t care about the 20%’ers special needs, are getting a shittier deal. Time is a limited resource, and every minute we spend on fringe, is a minute stolen from normal users experience. At times it also means that the interface for Mr. Normal becomes cluttered with a lot of irrelevant options. More options means that the UI is more taxing on the old brain.

I think we need to get back to spending 80% of the design time on the 80% of the users. Am I wrong?

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