Recently I was trying to add my dog to the waitlist at the daycare she frequents, and the app only allowed adding one date at a time. For each date I wanted to add, I had to select the pet, the date, the service, the drop-off and pickup times, any add-on services, etc.
It was a slow process. As I wanted to add her to the waitlist for two months, I would have had to do this 43 times. No thanks. Oddly, this bulk-add function was available for some other services, like direct boarding bookings.
Now, maybe they don’t want much of a waitlist. That workflow is certainly a good way to prevent it from filling up. Oversight? Intentional? Bottom line, it doesn’t seem to have been designed for the convenience of the main group of people who would be using it, i.e., pet owners.
The social platform Threads launched last week, intended to put another—and possibly the final—nail in Twitter’s coffin. It seems to work well enough for what it does at this point, and it has held up under the onslaught of a hundred-million signups over a few days.
Unsurprisingly, it’s missing some key features at launch (promised soon). No GIF support is disappointing, but not surprising. There is also no way to view a feed of just people you follow. Only a main feed that tends to have a lot of brand posts and recommendations to follow brands, which includes celebrities I couldn’t be less interested in.
You also can’t delete your Threads account alone. It’s tied to your Instagram account, so to delete Threads you have to delete Instagram, and I would wager most users have had an Instagram account for quite some time and would not be inclined to nuke it.
None of these choices seem like oversights. They seem absolutely calculated. Remember, Threads comes from Meta, the same company that owns Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, and other services. With billions of users, you figure out a thing or two about people and how to get what you want from them.
So, another shiny thing designed for the benefit of the company, not the users. Given that we seem to get a new proto-Twitter every few months (Spoutible, Bluesky, Spill, Hive, Post.News…), I wonder if being so self-serving will help or hinder Threads over the long term.
Outlets have been spouting off about how the app has had the fastest signup growth of any app ever, but signups are pointless if accounts quickly go dormant. Daily active users are the gold. And if you don’t deliver a certain quality of experience, users will go to the next new shiny thing that comes along.
Now, I’m well aware that no social platform has ever been rolled out for us, the users. They’re traps to draw us in, keep us scrolling, and use us indefinitely to show us ads and harvest our sweet, sweet data.
Well beyond dog kennels or social platforms, examples of bad design or execution that makes things harder or more inconvenient for the user are everywhere. Some of them aren’t just laziness or incompetence. They’re quite clearly designed for the benefit or convenience of the organization providing the product or service. Doesn’t matter that the customer keeps them in business. Shut up and give us your money.
Some companies can get away with this. For whatever reason they have a captive, loyal or stationary audience. Like how you have to have an Instagram account to use Threads and be a user of Meta’s services. Or, on a smaller scale, when there’s only one business providing X where you live.
Canadians are fairly well versed in this. Corporate and governmental Canada’s love of mergers and consolidation doesn’t tend to result in much of anything getting better for the average consumer.
But this is a wider spread phenomenon. I would bet most of us come across this way of doing things on a daily basis. You want my patronage, my money, my data, my social capital… and yet your business model is entirely designed around your convenience. Let’s face it, “What’s in it for me?” drives most of our interactions outside of intimate personal relationships. (And even those, for some people.) But it’s an instinct that’s constantly thwarted.
At a basic level, minimum viable product should mean “bells and whistles aren’t there yet, but the core functionality works reliably, and it does what it says on the tin (or in our marketing), and it’s something we believe you need or would enjoy.” It shouldn’t mean “people keep asking for these features in order to make the product reasonably usable, but we don’t think they’ll deliver enough ROI, so here are paid account tiers”.
Remember when products, services or entire platforms would be in beta for literal years? That’s another version of this. If it clearly says “beta” on it, there’s an excuse never to have to get everything working properly or deliver on features people actually want. It’s in beta! Lower your expectations! How convenient.
If you’ve been in the tech sphere, you’ve probably come across entrepreneurs or would-be entrepreneurs who want to have their own company. That may sound dumb. Isn’t the literal definition of being an entrepreneur having your own company?
Yes, but. It’s a control thing, not a creativity thing or a curiosity thing or a drive thing. Wanting to have a company is wanting to be in power, to be the decider.
It’s not the same as wanting to build something amazing, even occasionally world-changing. It’s not wanting to make ideas come to life or provide a product or service that makes life better. It’s not wanting to deliver a work experience that makes your team happy or a customer experience that makes them happy.
The company that results from someone’s drive to have a company will often fail, because it would be a fluke if it managed to deliver what people want the way they want it. Because the company’s not about that. Who needs to get the best people with the best expertise to create something not only viable but desirable? Just do what I say. I know better than anyone about everything. Very convenient.
Sometimes these companies do make it. Or the kind of people who want control will turn to acquisitions to get it. Buying is more convenient than building, right? We’ve all seen what tends to happen when billionaires get a hold of things…
Sometimes organizations succeed at delivering great things, but only externally. It’s entirely possible to create cool things and experiences and be convenient for your customers while failing miserably at taking care of your own teams.
You may have experienced this. The five-star recruitment and/or onboarding experience, but once you’ve settled into the team you’re on your own. The cracks appear. Co-workers don’t seem very happy. The people who’ve been there a while aren’t nearly so well taken care of. Turnover seems high. Resources to do all the great things they sold you on don’t exist. Innovative projects don’t actually happen. Hell, even getting day-to-day work done may be next to impossible because there’s just too much of it to ever really deliver and excel.
Guess whose convenience that whole courting song and dance was for?
Interestingly, I don’t think the reverse happens very much. Happy, supported employees who can do good work and have interesting projects aren’t super likely to deliver crappy, unsatisfactory products, services or customer experiences. Customers and their needs are less likely to feel like an inconvenience, you know?
People, for the most part, want to do good work, and I don’t think most companies want to be crappy. But building and running a business always comes with compromises and tradeoffs. Sometimes organizations lose sight of their ostensible priorities. Or sometimes their own convenience was always the only priority.
The more entities a company and its leadership have to report to, the more likely the customer’s needs, wants and experiences will fade into the background. Their convenience won’t deliver the required immediate sky-high results. Can’t imagine trying to squeeze blood from a stone is convenient for anyone.
It’s something to keep in mind when you’re looking for companies to do business with, or work for, or asking for recommendations or reading reviews. Do negative experiences seem to be one-offs, or does it look like the customer’s experience is consistently not a priority? For whose convenience does the company appear to exist?