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Dear Project Manager: No One Cares About Your Features

Kelly Meissner
Director of Product Innovation @ Crossover for Work

As project managers and product owners, we think about features a lot. Features are neat! They provide us with that "wow factor" executives crave, whatever that is. I am a decade into a career in design and development and I still don't know how to define "wow factor", but I can define a "feature". A feature is, by definition: "a distinctive attribute or aspect of something". Within a product, we typically want our features to provide value. That value can be intrinsic or extrinsic, and is not always expressed on the surface. This presents a problem with our relationship with features as software developers: we often think of them in terms of user interfaces (UI). In so doing, we are limiting ourselves, and our products.

To right that which has been made wrong we must reconsider what a product is in the first place.

What is a Product, Anyway?

When I first started my adventure into the world of product development, a "product" was just "a thing for sale". "Thing" was descriptive enough because, back then, my end user had a physical aspect to their experience. As long as the product had standard conventions, adoption did not require marketing to do much lifting on its behalf. After all, it is clear what to do with a "thing" that looks like a hammer.

Now, my products are on another level: the enterprise software level. By removing the tangible interaction from the equation, I have discovered that my end users are no longer satisfied with a product definition that ends at "a thing for sale". This is because I have removed the conventional form of a "thing" - an object: something one can hold.

My journey so far has taught me this:

Stop Designing Features. Start Developing Brands.

What is a Brand, Anyway?

It is NOT a logo, or a system of assets. It is not a name. A brand is a community: a tribe assembled around systems of economic exchanges, divided by their beliefs. Their collective identities influence conversations which drive purchase decisions. Those purchase decisions make or break a product. These conversations are what our features are supposed to be designed to capture and direct. They fall short of this when we only develop them at the surface level (UI).

A brand is expressed in visual assets or content. The substance of a brand lives somewhere else. It is defined by the collective experience of it's community base, and built upon what they value. The nature of this experience as it relates to the values of the community, and the company powered by it, is a critical element to consider. It provides insight to the context in which a user makes a decision.

By knowing what the user values, we can predict what experiences they will emotionally invest in. A user who is emotionally invested in a product is more likely devote time and money to it.

Value is the gateway to a users emotions.

What is Value, Anyway?

Value (simplified) is actionable belief. A person has to have a belief about something in order to be driven into action by it. In psychology, we refer to the systems which drive these actions as scripts. Scripts are activated by triggers.

Take this scenario for example: There is a bear in your living room.

Seeing a bear in your living room should trigger your fight or flight response; a script. The Bear in the context of your living room is a trigger . (Context is critical: After all, you might react differently, were you to see it at the zoo.)

What you DO in response to that script is the resulting action. It will be influenced heavily by what you believe to be true about bears. More importantly, it will also be influenced by what you believe to be true about yourself in relation to bears.

If you choose to fight it, you are presented with risks to assess: Do I believe I can win? Why? What are the odds? What do I gain by fighting? What do I stand to lose?

If you choose to feed it, new risks appear: Do I have what bears eat? Can I afford bear food? How long will it stay if I feed it? What if it is not hungry? What do I stand to lose? And Gain?

Eventually you will respond: so, in turn, will the Bear. How you and the bear respond to each other, and the impact it has on both of you and your environment, is an experience. That experience has the potential to provide "wow factor" for all of it's features, but it is only when you provide others access to the room, and engage them in that experience that you have an actual product. If you can't engage others in the experience, all you have a bear in your living room.

What Does This Mean?

People (users) apply scripts (value systems) to respond to triggers (content + context :: a bear + your living room).

The actions users take within your product interface generate experiences. (what happens to you and the bear) The act of packaging those experiences in a way where others can access and repeat them, is the future of product development.

Why we package those experiences the way we do can make or break the success of a product. The game is no longer about designing an interface, it is about designing a platform for experiences which direct conversations with the communities that make up the brand. The interface is just a tool we give the user in order to engage in those conversations.

A tool without context is meaningless: try cutting down a tree with a hammer, sometime.

A product that is built around features provides the user with a door to an empty room. By re-defining "UI" from the status of "the embodiment of the product" to "a platform on which users can interact with a brand", we can break the current cycle and prioritize something new: User Experience.

User Experience is not new, though. It actually technically pre-dates the invention of software, because it also pre-dates the invention of the computer. But what is new, is the following idea: Your User Experience defines your brand.

UX and UI are different things.

UI is like the front end of your brand. UX is your back end. One is form, the other is function. Taking a feature first approach to product design is like prioritizing your front end over your back end. Products are more likely to benefit from a full stack approach to development AND design.

So, Project Manager: forget about your features and stop working so hard.

If you develop your brand first, and with a full stack approach to solving the problem: the product will define itself.


  1. Archetypes in branding: A toolkit for creatives and strategists.
    Hartwell, Margaret Pott., et al. How Books, 2012.

  2. UXPin: Full Library

  3. User Experience Design Is Not What You Think

  4. Sticky Branding: 12.5 Principles to Stand out, Attract Customers, and Grow an Incredible Brand. Miller, J. (2015). Toronto: Dundurn Press

  5. How To Strengthen Your Personal Brand Using Four Product Branding Principles. Liu, J. (2018, June 04):

  6. Start with Why. Sinek, S. (n.d.) , https://startwithwhy.com/


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