The other night we were wondering what to eat – neither me nor my wife felt like cooking, so it was down to takeaway options. We thought about the usual suspects but then twitter helped us out. A local eatery called Chatsworth Kitchen on Chatsworth Road, Hackney, tweets its menus, and this one appealed:
Spicy Moroccan meatballs with lemon couscous and yoghurt, roast Sicilian vegetable with dill pilaff, banana pudding, raspberry trifle
So here is the thing- the menu only lists two items for main courses. But they both sound completely delicious, don’t they? I am a vegetarian, but my wife is very much not. Two items- and they fit us like a pair of gloves. And the desserts? Oh my gosh – yum! So I ran up the road to Chats Kitchen. I jokingly tweeted at the time I was at my local opinionated eatery. Sarah, the proprietor, looked at me with a well cocked eyebrow:
“You’re calling me opinonated?”
Well yes Sarah I explained, opinionated is a good thing. It improves the customer experience- too much choice doesn’t make dining any easier or more appealing. How many times have you been to a restaurant with a five page menu and struggled to pick anything out. I said in application development, Opinionated Software is a good thing. Ruby On Rails is the canonical example. Of course David Heinemeier Hansson is rather opinonated himself, and he built this into a software architecture for building web applications. Developers loved the freedom of not screwing around with config files. Class naming conventions and so on are standardised.
The best software has a vision. The best software takes sides. When someone uses software, they’re not just looking for features, they’re looking for an approach. They’re looking for a vision. Decide what your vision is and run with it.
But being opinionated isn’t just about software development. Take Apple- which has to be the most opinionated company in the world, right now, when it comes to product design. Apple doesn’t do focus groups. Apple doesn’t options or too much customer choice. Very often fewer options improves the customer experience.
I was talking to Alistair Rennie, Lotus Software general manager last week, and I said Lotus success will be predicated on what you take out, not what you put in. Funnily enough he agreed with me – and confided that recently he had had to kill some work from an engineering team because the functionality was unnecessary. Lotus won’t break out by serving endless “customer requirements”, it will do so by focusing on user experience. Lotus needs to be more opinionated, like Chats Kitchen.
Now I know that Sarah is a marketing professional by trade, and this is her first food startup. She took the plunge. Arguably a complex menu would have been just too difficult. But here is the thing: Sarah made less choice a strategy. As I rambled on about application development, she just said:
“Oh I call that choice architecture”
Great phrase. I haven’t read Nudge yet, but I like the idea for sure. I was talking to another client Actuate yesterday, and they have been finding that newer customers have been using BIRT open source analysis tools to focus on user experience without recourse to focus groups, and long requirements cycles. Instead these firms are opionionated, and are choosing open source software to package up great user experiences.
Of course choice architectures can go too far- I find Apple’s Permission-based Web a little stale. Or take the look and feel of Facebook, another walled garden. Totally opionated. We can all learn from opionated business. These are the options, their aren’t too many of them- we’ll be more productive working together than spending time wondering what choices to make.
Whether you’re a product manager, a designer, developer or General Manager less is more. Freedom doesn’t mean more options, it means more flow.
RedMonk itself tries to keep things opinonated with our Simple Subscription Service for Startups. You see- little companies don’t have time to screw around negotiating with a A La Carte, or a buffet – they just want a good offering at a good price. Too much choice is so last century.
If you enjoyed this post I suspect you will also enjoy my last riff based on a small business chalkboard – On Soup, Microcopy and User Experience.