If we can make a product work for *anyone*, it usually works better for *everyone*
One of the hardest things about building a product like WhatsApp is that, as a development team, we’re primarily not building for ourselves. Instead we aim to build for the most technologically vulnerable users — people who live in emerging markets, often with low-end devices, on poor networks, who might be brand-new to technology — even though our product is used by a wide spectrum of users globally.
To do this well, we have to separate our natural desires as builders — to break new ground and put our fingerprints on something shiny — from what our users need. For WhatsApp, that’s the feeling of safety users get from “I flip the switch, the lights go on.”
This is hard. We can all think of a dozen features we could build into WhatsApp that would make our own experience better. And I sometimes find myself itching to ship products as soon as we're close to done, rather than grinding out more small details to smooth the experience.
But focusing on those global users forces us to solve problems that are universal and build solutions that are so intuitive they work for anyone in the world — even though that focus also comes with limits, like not always taking advantage of the most recent hardware.
Of course, this isn’t how every product should be built. Users hire each product for a different job — and we have to match those expectations as builders. But one surprising observation I’ve found: products designed to work as simply as possible for folks who are new to tech often work better for the rest of us too.
Many of us have seen examples of this over the years — when a simple interface designed for mobile performs better even for desktop users accustomed to more options, or when slimming down a rich business experience for a lightweight user interface can lead to more usage and comprehension.
The simpler the solution, the lower the cognitive load. And no matter how tech-savvy we are, we could all use an occasional break from more cognitive load — and the fact that anyone can use these products means that they’re easier for all of us to use.