Why people use products

Back in college, I taught one of my professors how to use Twitter. He was amazed by its simplicity: you type into a box and click a button. It’s one of the simplest interfaces in the entire tech world.

He asked, “If it’s this simple, why is it so popular?”

I replied, “It’s popular because it’s simple.”

On the same note, you can learn how to use Tinder in less than 10 seconds: a picture of a girl appears. Swipe right if you’re interested, swipe left if you’re not. This is much easier than signing up for an online dating service or going to bars. Thus it found a place in the market.

But this post isn’t about Twitter or Tinder. It’s about barriers. The general idea is, people use products with the lowest perceived barriers to getting results.

Here are a few ways you can lower the barriers for your own products:

  • Take a sledgehammer to the learning curve. Just like Tinder and Twitter, make it mindnumbingly simple to use your product. Another great example is the iOS homescreen, which is usable by children, technophobes, and fully accessible for people with mental disabilities. It has a tiny number of options, but is incredibly powerful1.
  • Fast is perceived as easy. Email overtook snail mail, and texting overtook email. Users perceive speed as ease-of-use. Yield results as fast as possible, and people will be more likely to return to using your product2.
  • Provide decisions, not options3. Apple’s designers make decisions for their users. As a result, their products are straightforward and easy to use. This is a direct contrast to endlessly customizable Linux distributions.
  • Remove usage dread. How do you keep in touch with distant friends and relatives? You don’t call them, and you don’t text them – you use Facebook. This is because Facebook eliminates phone tag and awkward silences.
  1. Look at it this way: you have a little piece of glass in your pocket. It has a “portal” that can drop you into anything you desire: it will show you next week’s weather. You can use it to summon items to your doorstep. You can view all of the collective knowledge of humanity. You can see your child’s face in realtime. You can send a message to thousands of people in seconds. And this portal’s UI is so simple that it looks like a child’s toy. ↩︎

  2. This is a common psychological principle. Tim Ferriss follows this philosophy in the Four Hour Body, where he starts the book with tactics that produce rapid weight loss before introduces other solutions that take more time and provide an even better result. Readers quickly see a benefit to following his first methods, so they continue reading and practicing the material. ↩︎

  3. This is a philosophy of WordPress. I like Tom McFarlin’s take on it. ↩︎