The choices that go into digital products are usually invisible. Coming across a smart product decision is like unexpectedly coming across a work of art where a commercial reproduction would have sufficed and realizing “Whoa, someone(s) really put time and thought into this.” Product decision X was fine but it turns out that solution Y is so much better. But what about if the new solution while ultimately improving the experience causes roadblocks along the way?
I was sitting on my couch trying to copy a message in the Message app on my Macbook. A friend had texted me a quote from a news article and it was it shocking. I wanted to drop the quote somewhere so that years from now, when things hopefully are sorted out I could look back and think “wow, that is wild.” I tried to highlight the words but every time the highlight would go away before I could hit ⌘ + c or pop up a menu to add an emoji reaction. I tried and failed multiple times. It was legitimately frustrating. Not until the 4th time did I realize that instead I could to click the message, the message color would darken, and and I could hit ⌘ + c copying the message. One click, no highlighting, arguably this is an improvement. Once you learn how to use it, the simple efficiency is beautiful, but for people who expect to easily highlight to copy and paste, how can they find this new functionality in the first place?
Ohh and the text I wanted to copy? “On the campaign trail, Trump vehemently denied having any business interests in Russia. But behind the scenes, he was pushing the Moscow project, which he hoped could bring his company profits in excess of $300 million. The two law enforcement sources said he had at least 10 face-to-face meetings with Cohen about the deal during the campaign.”
I was in a friend’s kitchen and something mildly magical was happening. They had taken out their popcorn maker, turned it on and after a minute popcorn started to bubble up. Sensing an opportunity for mundane #content, my bread and butter, I pulled out Instagram and started recording a Story. As the popcorn bubbled up, I worried the video would take longer than the the 15 second limit for a video and I would miss the crescendo when the popcorn dramatically spilled out into the bowl. Luckily the Instagram product team saved me and their solution was so elegant I had barely even noticed. Previously when you held your thumb on the record button, an outer circle appeared and indicated the video duration with video recording 15 seconds until the circle came back around and closed the loop on itself. Now however, the circle never closes and the shape loops as long as your finger is held down on the button. When you take your finger off the button, multiple 15 seconds videos are chunked out. Instagram didn’t need to explain the new feature, it was self evident. Users didn’t need to change how they used the app to discover this improved functionality, it just worked.
A better copy and paste and an easier way to take long videos are both great features. Tapping a message to highlight works swimmingly, however the only way I discovered this copy and paste improvement was by failing multiple times at a seemingly simple task. With Instagram’s new longer videos, I didn’t have to mess up or modify my behavior to understand and utilize a new feature. It’s not just enough to create a new feature or functionality, you need to make it intuitively discoverable. You need to make tools that improve people’s experience and you need to guide them on how to use it without them asking.