Skip to main content

Embrace the Dead End: Why "Hidden" Features Can Enhance Your User Experience

Most enterprise apps hide features users don't have access to or haven't paid for. Here's my explainer as to why you might not want to do that.

Embrace the Dead End: Why "Hidden" Features Can Enhance Your User Experience

Imagine this: A user stares at your interface, frustration etched on their face. They click buttons, scan menus, retrace their steps, all in a desperate search for what they need. You designed this beautiful, intuitive interface, so where's the disconnect?

I stumbled upon the answer after observing countless users, including myself, navigating various systems. The common culprit? Dead ends. Features hidden behind permissions, paywalls, or simply not implemented yet. Instead of gracefully informing users of these limitations, the interface offers false hope, leading to a frustrating dead end and unnecessary support tickets.

But what if we embraced these dead ends? Not as failures, but as opportunities for transparency and proactive guidance.

Here's why incorporating "dead ends" with clear next steps can benefit everyone:

For Users:

  • Clarity: Knowing what they can and can't do saves time and frustration. Clear explanations of limitations manage expectations and offer alternative solutions, like offline processes or contacting administrators.
  • Focus: A simplified interface with hidden, inaccessible features reduces cognitive load and helps users navigate with ease.
  • Support Reduction: Users spend less time searching for non-existent features, leading to fewer support tickets for you and them.

For Administrators:

  • Informed Decisions: Data on unaccessed features reveals user needs and informs decisions about future development and monetization.
  • Simplified Maintenance: Design becomes easier when features are shown or hidden based on access, reducing the impact of updates on layout and consistency.

For Choosers (Decision-makers):

  • Insights: User data on desired but inaccessible features becomes powerful marketing evidence, highlighting potential revenue streams from unlocking them.
  • Transparency: Showing limitations builds trust and avoids the disappointment of hidden costs or unexpected restrictions.

Think of dead ends as permission-denied screens, not design failures. They offer guidance, manage expectations, and provide valuable data. The result? A smoother user experience, improved support efficiency, and more informed business decisions.

So, don't shy away from dead ends. Embrace them as valuable tools for building a user-centric, future-proof interface. Your users, administrators, and business will thank you for it.

This article was written with the help of Bard AI
Original prompt:
write a short article for my blog about the follow User Experience material: When I design interfaces and user journeys I include dead ends and I think you should too. Having observed a lot of people using systems, my own designs and others in their day to day work I stumbled upon a frequent point of frustration where users couldn't find what they were looking for. When I was working on a GDS project we were encouraged to provide content that directed people offline when the service itself could no longer help. It gave users a next step and they found this useful, and while it was frustrating they couldn't do the thing there and then, it did give them direction. I took this principle and applied it to more broadly. Having seen users get stuck looking for things, what was the main culprit? They weren't given the permissions to do the thing or they hadn't paid the fee to use the thing. In both cases the user, administrator, and chooser were different people. Pretty common in enterprise software. So what happens? Well users get frustrated looking for the missing button in the interface, give up and ask someone for help. Eventually it transpires they don't have the rights or the company just doesn't have that feature enabled. And this offline process begins to elevating rights or requesting the feature. This is not optimum use of people's time, and it doesn't do much for supporting the decision on how to act. When I applied the design pattern of showing dead ends and the next steps to users in a GDS project we didn't get feedback users were lost, feedback was more about the service not its usability. Great result as it meant less work for us supporting these questions. It most likely meant less work for users in those systems as they knew what they could and couldn't use. This we did directly observe, it is assumed based on the lack of support tickets. In a commercial setting the revealing of features not paid provides a great fake door data point to use with sales and marketing. For example you could show the chooser that 50% of their users wanted to use the feature they're not currently paying for. It also makes maintanance of the experience easier too. Think of these dead ends as permissions authorisation denied UIs and while they might add some overhead to the front-end they do make designing pages simpler as things don't vanish and potential impact the layout and consistency of the experience. Which I think long term makes it much easier to manage UIs are your product becomes more complex with modules visible and not visible. So its good for users, good for administrators, good for choosers, and good for business. Why not not do it? Please include a title along with the body content

Random Quote

Perfect is the enemy of good

François-Marie Arouet