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Are adding gimmicks to a website ever a good idea? What I mean by gimmick is adding "cool" features that solve no real problem.

We are currently considering adding a "Magazine style" product viewing application to the site. You know like a flash based app that shows magazine pages that you can click and flip the pages with your mouse. I personally think this is terrible idea.

We already have a category page where you click on a category and it lists products. So this catalog view is not solving any problems that are not already solved. They want to use it because of its "cool" factor. I personally don't think its cool, I think its cumbersome, but thats besides the point.

I am all for adding complex features, but only when those complex features are solving real problems. I think this worst part of all is there are now 2 paths for the user to take, a category route and a magazine route. I think the shopping route should be linear and I believe too many options like this is distracting and confusing.

InDesign has a plugin that can make something like this very easily. So not much time will be wasted on it, but I still think it is a very bad idea. Am I right, or being too opinionated?

Can anyone give me any good arguments for either side?

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closed as primarily opinion-based by MichaelT, Ixrec, GlenH7, Kilian Foth, Snowman Feb 9 at 5:20

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

Yes, I hate those. Also, flash kills SEO. – Job Apr 21 '11 at 16:17
as Job said, SEO is a good one, tell them they'll get less traffic. – RYFN Apr 21 '11 at 16:22
Voting to close. The question answers itself, as no one could really say that gimmicks are a good idea. May be salvageable with significant edit. – Eric Wilson Apr 21 '11 at 16:40
@FarmBoy Why can no one say that gimmicks are a good idea? They certainly are good in the cellphone and toothbrush industry. – JD Isaacks Apr 21 '11 at 16:53
Gimmick has an extremely negative connotation. But who knows, maybe a gimmick defender will arrive on the seen with a well-thought-out pro-gimmick answer. If so, then I'm wrong, and that's why five close votes are required. – Eric Wilson Apr 21 '11 at 17:36
up vote 7 down vote accepted

It depends.

A little gimmickry can make things more appealing. Look at any fun game: there are often a ton of little gimmicks. And a little more appeal can make the difference between success and failure.

But there are three problems with the situation you describe:

  1. It sounds like there's no evidence that this gimmick works for users. If it doesn't make shopping more fun and effective for them, then it's not even a gimmick; it's just bullshit.
  2. Your company is making a large bet based on thin evidence. For something of unknown value, it's best to keep the costs and user impact low. I'd try this in a very small way before going big.
  3. The gimmick may be for bosses, not the audience. A useful gimmick has to be cool for your actual users, but a lot of gimmicks are only cool to internal people. That's not who the site is for!

I'd hack together a quick version of this, and bring 5-10 people in for some guerrilla user testing. If that got users excited, I'd do a special small version. A focus on particular products, a sale, whatever. I'd A/B test that with a regular approach to the same stuff. If that worked, then I'd find some long-term test to let us see if it's a short-term gimmick or something with long-term utility.

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First, let's unpack 'adding "cool" features that solve no real problem'.

What is a "real" problem? I would define a real problem as one that, when solved, provides value to your customers or clients (or other stakeholders), i.e. "business value". By that definition, a "cool" feature can solve a "real" problem, although they often don't. Also, consider the opportunity cost of working on a "cool" feature that provides minimal business value versus a "less cool" feature that provides greater business value.

This question really boils down to the most commonly asked (and answered) problem in software engineering: "how do I most effectively deliver business value?" For me, Agile principles work the best, but there may be multiple valid answers. However, one attribute they share is that they are evidence-based and require the use of critical thinking.

I suggest you approach the problem not as "should I ship useless but cool features" but rather as "how do I maximize business value using evidence and critical thinking".

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Then again, I like to define "cool feature" to mean "one that maximizes business value for effort", so I always try to ship "cool' features and they always solve "real" problems. – Rein Henrichs Apr 21 '11 at 18:07

I agree with you. This is called Gold Plating and it's not good idea. Spend the time developing new requirements instead. I also agree with @Job about Flash.

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These are they types of features that look good during a demo, but after someone uses the site a few times, the glimmer is gone. Experienced users would rather have a short-cut key and no delay.

Everything can't be functional. The decision should be based on user feed-back. You never know.

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Depending on what your site does, this is not a bad idea. Personally I would far rather shop for clothes or some such on line using the magazine style "gimmick" that makes it behave like a paper catalog. I suspect many people would - especially people in my age group who did not grow up with the Internet. So depending on what you are selling it may be appropriate, not a gimmick at all.

Further, it isn't your call. If that is what management wants, it's their call. Just suck it up and do it and stop whining.

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Good points in first paragraph. Also I know it isn't my call, but if I can prevent a mistake (if it even is a mistake) I would like to. I am the sole developer so if the website is a success/failure it reflects on me whether or not the decisions made were mine. – JD Isaacks Apr 21 '11 at 19:26

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