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Featuritis (or creeping featurism)

Featuritis or creeping featurism is the tendency for the number of features in a software product to rise with each release of the product. What may have been a cohesive and consistent design in the early versions may end up as a patchwork of added features. And with extra features comes extra complexity.

As Donald Norman explains: "Complexity probably increases as the square of the features: double the number of features, quadruple the complexity. Provide ten times as many features, multiply the complexity by one hundred." (Norman 1988: p. 174) The result is, in other words, that the product may be extremely productive to the small proportion of expert users whose knowledge of the use of the product has been extended with each incremental addition of features. For the first-time user or the beginner, however, the sum of features is overwhelming and it can be very discouraging to have to spend large amounts of time finding out how to accomplish simple tasks.

Featuritis is caused by enthusiastic users or designers. the first request additional features to meet their specific needs and because additional features could "improve" the software, at least from their point of view.  The latter add them.

In reality few users can actually profit from the continuous addition of features as new  features became difficult to remember and as such never used. It is important to differentiate adding a feature that generalized sequence of very frequently performed operations (Huffman encoding) to adding a feature that might look desirable ("Gee, wouldn't it be nice if it had this feature too?"). Well-meaning designers who are not aware of the danger of featuritis tend to respond to pressure from power users and in the process make it more difficult to use software by the average user or beginner, who are not necessarily interested in extra features.

Once a software application suffers from featuritis designers often resort to  providing "beginner's mode", which contains a basic subset of the full set of features. But the resulting software complexity and destruction of initial architecture in the process of adding features  represents more serious and not easily solve d problem, making featuritis a dangerous disease. 

Don Norman Jan 1st, 1970 #1

Hah! The example shown in Figure 1 is a wonderful example of a "self-defeating mechanism" (a concept worthy of its own dictionary entry). Too many features in a product? Well, we will simply add yet another feature to let you reduce the number of features. As the text for the figure legend puts it: "Example of featuritis overcome by letting the user choose a 'mode' corresponding to his/her skills." Um, but I am confused. Seems like the addition cancels any reduction. Self-defeating mechanism, self-defined. That's not reducing featuritis -- that is propagating it. I can think of other similar examples -- such as all the manuals one can purchase that explain the instruction manuals of products. Witting manuals to explain PowerPoint or Photoshop is a big business. Manuals that explain manuals. Added features in order to reduce the number of features. It's wonderful.

John Mashey (mash(at)heymash(dot)com) says: Oct 13th, 2008 #2

The term "creeping featurism" was used in a 1976 Programmer's Workbench paper I wrote, and in a talk first done in 1977, and later gave (as an ACM National Lecture) about 50-70 times through 1982. The original foils were scanned in 2002, and the phrase is used on Slide 033 within the talk.

I've lost the cartoon pair that went with this: the first, a smiling little innocent baby feature, the second, the monstrous tentacled adult creature.

I can't recall if I actually coined this myself or heard it somewhere, but in any case, the phrase was certainly in public use by 1976.

-John Mashey

Martin Van Zanten (martinjzu(at)gmail(dot)com) says: Nov 11th, 2008

Quite well said! One other aspect I would like to point out: part of this featuritis is the feeling of "shooting on a moving target". It would be great if a "core application" would stay the same forever, so in my lifetime the "language used" would stay the same!

Of course modules could also be treated in this way... and for the adventurous this modular setup would provide an open end to experiment in different directions...

Get the point?!

Mads Soegaard (mads(at)interaction-design(dot)org) says: Nov 19th, 2008 #4

Frank Spillers has written a good article called "Feature frenzy - 10 tips to getting feature creep under control".

You can find it at http://experiencedynamics.blogs.com/site_search_usability/2007/02/feature_frenzy_.html



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