The Porridge Problem
In my last piece, Friction, I suggested that as UX professionals, we can’t make everything perfect; that friction is an inherent part of any experience, and that it’s important to focus on the friction points that our users actually perceive to be friction.
Today I want to talk about something even further down the scale from perfect. Today I want to talk about “good enough.”
We don’t always have the time or resources to do everything we want to do. It’s often better to get your product or service out there in front of your users than to tinker with every detail. However, too often we mistake “good enough” for “just right.”
Making something “good enough” means making the whole meet the minimum.
When it doesn’t have to be perfect, it just has to be, we get MVPs that no one wants to use. Products in this space are only used as long as no alternative exists. If the users don’t need to use it, then not using it becomes an attractive alternative. In “good enough” experiences, any friction detracts from the whole — we find it harder to just glide over it. Similar to what I mentioned in “Oh, the Agony”, on bad days, every little thing that goes wrong is its own little catastrophe.
If your baseline is the minimum, it only takes a little bit of friction to drop the experience below that baseline.
Instead, aim for “just right.” Identify the parts that matter to your audience — both emotionally and functionally — and build around those.
In Montreal, Quebec, Schwartz’s has been making amazing smoked meat since 1928. You can enjoy it at the deli on two slices of white bread with a giant dollop of mustard, or take it home to heat up and make a stack of sandwiches — sharing optional. The deli itself is narrow and long, you can only pay with cash — there’s an ATM at the back, cashier is at the front — and the walls are covered in old posters and newspaper clippings. The restaurant could be made bigger to accommodate more people, a larger storefront installed for less crowded takeout. They could start accepting credit cards in moments by signing up for services like Square. But they make good food, the staff is honest, and you know you’re getting quality every time. It’s all on-brand without need for a styleguide or voice-and-tone guide. Squeezing out from your table to get to the ATM, then cramming into line at the front is part of the whole experience.
Schwartz’s has found their “just right” for their product and service and, in turn, their patrons.
If Schwartz’s was “good enough,” we wouldn’t recognize their name. They would be another mediocre sandwich shop, nothing to seek out, certainly nothing to talk about. We wouldn’t feel compelled to choose them over the Subway on the corner — at least at Subway we can count on a halfway decent sandwich. When your reputation is “good enough,” the one day something goes wrong, we notice. We’ll never expect you to do any more than “good enough.”
As UX professionals, we must remind ourselves that the gap between “good enough” and “just right” differs between individuals. What I find comfortable, you may find messy. Some would-be patrons may consider Schwartz’s cash-only policy and paper placemats to be the bare minimum. But like many strong brands, Schwartz’s understands that they don’t need to be all things to all people.
In the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears, each of the bears preferred their porridge at a different temperature. Goldilocks found baby bear’s porridge “just right.” Identify your audience and their “just right.” Don’t let your product be “good enough.”
With thanks to Quinn Keast.