What Is “Over-Engineering” and Why Is It a Threat to Effective Product Development

Why Is It a Threat to Effective Product Development

The number one rule of creating a product: keep it simple!

When an entrepreneur is coming up with an idea for a product, they don’t always strike gold on their first try. Sometimes, their products are not solving an existing problem. Other times, their products might be too complicated to solve any problem or even create a new one; hence, no one would want to buy it. This is referred to as over-engineering, a problem typically noticed in software engineering, but it can also occur in other areas of product development.

So, if you don’t want your money to go down the drain from designing and manufacturing an over-engineered product, read on to learn about the causes of over-engineering products and how to avoid it. 

Causes of over-engineering

Lack of proper research

Research is the most important part of any design process, and it is one of the major causes of over-engineering. Not giving enough time to go through the data about the history of a problem and previous solutions can be detrimental to the success of your product. By looking at the performance of similar products in the market as well as consulting customers on the issues they face, you can set up an accurate roadmap for the product development process. 

One example of inadequate research is Hapilabs’ weight loss invention, the HAPIfork. The French company’s HAPIfork tracks the speed at which you eat and vibrates to alert you if you are eating too fast. The idea here was that people would start to feel full after spending about 20 minutes on a meal, and if they consume a meal slowly, they would feel full but eat less, thereby helping them lose weight. However, the invention ignores other factors contributing to obesity, such as poor diet and lack of exercise—neither of which can be solved by a vibrating fork. This lack of adequate research may be why this fork didn’t end up becoming a mainstay of the average household.

Looking too far into the future

Of course, we all want a future-proof business where the product can stay relevant over the years. But often, things might not turn out according to our vision of the future, and looking too far into the future can be a major pitfall for companies when it comes to product development. While having a future-proof product is important, it is essential to balance this with practicality and feasibility.

By spending precious time and energy designing a product with all the features necessary in the hypothetical future, a company may increase its complexity and drive up costs. Moreover, in a highly competitive market, companies cannot afford to waste time on an overly complex product that might not meet current customer demands. 

Take the Micromax Canvas 4 as an example. The phone boasted a blow-to-unlock feature that allowed users to unlock their devices by blowing on the screen or shaking the phone. Even though the feature was unique and futuristic in 2013 when it came out, it didn’t stand the test of time due to the rise of more secure and privacy-conscious methods like face identification and fingerprint scans. 

Shortcomings in the product testing process

In the fast-paced world of product development, no product reaches customers without going through quality checks. However, the testing process often ignores the design of the product and the cost, resulting in over-engineering. While testing typically focuses on under-engineering (products that perform fewer functions than required) or ensuring that products perform their intended functions, it is equally important to consider the costs associated with designing and manufacturing the product. To avoid losses in the long run, companies need to emphasize these factors during the testing stages. 

An example of product testing shortcomings playing out in real life is the Indian tech company, Ducere Technologies’ Le Chal GPS shoes. The shoes were designed to connect to your smartphone via Bluetooth and use its GPS to guide you to your destination. What the product testers didn’t consider was the importance of visual cues in navigation. Unlike using a map app like Google Maps, which provides a visual layout of the journey and enables backtracking in case of getting lost, the Le Chal GPS shoes do not offer visual guidance. 

How to solve the over-engineering problem 

The first and probably most effective way to avoid over-engineering is to ask yourself, “Can we simplify this product or service and still achieve the same results?” If the answer is yes, then you need to start working on a simpler approach. When seeing yourself or your team slipping into future planning, think about whether the product would be useful to your current customer base and what would happen if you didn’t add a certain feature right now. Following these two steps and testing your products carefully should save your company a lot of money in the long run. 

Simplicity is the key to product design. The examples we sprinkled throughout this article should tell you that not every product succeeds. In fact, 90% of all startups fail. Hence, to make yourself a part of the 10% that don’t, you need to put simplicity above all else when it comes to product design. 

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Header image courtesy of Unsplash


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