How do people discover features in an app?

If we’re building a feature that only caters to 20% of our users then where do we put it? If we splash it in everyone’s face we’re just spamming 80% of the people who use our app.

When our app only did one thing our core feature was 100% obvious. Now we have five features and the same amount of attention gets distributed between them. At best, each feature can only be 20% obvious. The more features we add the less obvious each one becomes.

There are design principles that we’re using to skirt the edges here. We can cluster things together, space things apart, play with size and colour and contrast but all we’re doing is shuffling attention around. Let’s steal 5% of the attention from these bits and give it to this thing over here.

We cant make everything more obvious. Attention is a zero-sum game.

When we were small we could just stuff all our features into the navigation bar. That’s not an option anymore. If we want to keep things obvious we’re going to have to start saying no to things. This means making decisions about who our product is really for and what we’re helping them accomplish.

I’m working on a product at the moment. We’re interviewing existing customers. Something that’s coming up is people are asking for features that already exist.

I’ve been thinking about ways to help people discover features.

Let’s stuff everything into the navbar

It works, but we’ll run out of navbar space eventually. More importantly, every item we add to the navbar makes every existing option less obvious.

A help centre

A help centre is useful when people know what they want to do. The tradeoff is that it’s a lot of work and requires maintenance. A slimmed-down version could be an FAQ page or more details on the pricing page.

The changelog

We could introduce a ‘what’s new’ icon. Less maintenance than a help centre. Great for existing users but useless for future users.

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Slap in the face

We can get more aggressive with our feature updates and slap people in the face with a pop-up.

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Feature announcements

We could send everyone an update about features in an email, or an app push notification or SMS announcements.

Pulsating dots

We could highlight a feature of the screen with a coloured dot. We can even animate it to make it more obvious.

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Pro tips
We can place tip and tricks in relevant places. The more we invest in behavioural analytics, the fancier we can get about which tips we show to which people and when.

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The slingshot

When someone gets something meaningful done with the product, we can congratulate them and point them to a related feature.

The inverse of this idea is to use the empty state to set better expectations when people begin using a feature.

If you have more ideas on how to make features more discoverable, please share them with me.