37 signals is at it again.

A recent post on Signals vs. Noise was reminicent of something I wrote last month.

In this post, they review a number of customer complaints and categorize them. They also make the following astute observation:

Every feature that’s missing is essential, a must-have, and the fact that it’s missing is killing someone. Yet the #1 thing that people like about our software is how simple it is.

Here they’re inferring that if they were to add the features people want, the software would become unusable and “the #1 thing people like” would be no longer. Their mantra is simplicty, and these pesky customers keep asking for stuff that might make their product less simple.

Welcome to the real world of post-release software. People want features. People use the software in different ways for different things and want different features. If you care about your customers, you will do your best to give them what they want while trying not to harm those customers who aren’t interested. If you continue pleasing customers, as say Microsoft did with Office, you may end up in a situation where “most people don’t need the full Microsoft Office collection”. You might even have a product on your hands that accounts for $10 billion in annual revenue… and that would be terrible.

Of course, it comes at a cost. Things do become more complicated, and you have to start innovating with your UI. The screenshots of the upcoming version of Office certainly reveal how much work they’ve had to do with organizing all of the features they have. When OSX was being designed, I imagine the fisheye menu at the bottom of the screen came about at least in part because they wanted to preserve screen space without making the icons tiny and hard to click on (that and to make it look sexy). It’s not a matter of limiting the product’s capabilities, it’s a matter of enhancing the product’s capabilities in response to customer demands, and trying your best not to harm usability.

For every “essential, a must-have” feature a customer asks for and 37signals refuses, there is another opportunity for a competitor to make an entrance. There are only so many opportunities you can give to competitors. There are only so many times you can tell a customer you’re not interested in helping them before they start to believe you.