‘Maximum Viable Product’

Clive Thompson, in a piece from April:

What if more developers developed a sense for the “maximum” number of things a product should do — and stopped there?

What if more software firms decided, “Hey! We’ve reached the absolute perfect set of features. We’re done. This product is awesome. No need to keep on shoving in stuff nobody wants.”

Sure, this would have risks. Standing still risks becoming obsolete, as other competitors swoop in.

But it can also just mean you have confidence in your amazing design.

Indeed, some of my favorite pieces of software feel very much like the “maximum viable product”. They seem like highly mature apps that realize they don’t need to significantly evolve new gills or appendages. For twelve years, for example, I’ve used Scrivener for writing my articles and books. “Word processing” is a super-competitive area, but Scrivener hasn’t had any feature creep I can detect. It stuck to its guns. I’d say the same thing about Logic Pro: I’ve used it for twelve years now for music production, and while it’s added new instruments and effects, it has done so gently — it hasn’t larded its UI with endless features. And it’s facing tons of competition, too, from Pro Tools and Ableton Live and others.

I think this is common for a lot of apps that have proven to have staying power. It’s why they have staying power. One way to think of it is that software should be designed a little more like hardware. A 2022 MacBook doesn’t have any more buttons or ports than one from 20 years ago. (In fact, MacBooks have fewer ports.) It’s mostly software where there’s a temptation to keep expanding in scope endlessly.

Tuesday, 29 November 2022