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Choosing the Right Features with Kano Model

uxdesign.cc – User Experience Design — Medium | Aleksandra Bis

How to create products that will meet our users’ expectations?

As product teams, we aim to create products that will delight our users. However despite our best effort, at times it simply does not happen. There can be dozens of reasons why. One of them may have to do with the product not meeting or fulfilling our user’s expectations. In this case, we can count on Kano Model to avoid such outcome.

Kano Model is a tool team use to make design decisions. It enables to plan design better by prioritising features based on their expected impact on customer satisfaction. In consequence, it helps understand whether a given feature will bring delight or frustration.

The model originated in Japan in the 1980’s and was built on three core tenets:

  • Value attracts customers,
  • Quality keeps customers and builds loyalty,
  • Innovation is necessary to differentiate and compete in the market.

Developed by a Japanese Professor, Noriaki Kano, it classifies product requirements or attributes based on how customers perceive them, and what effect do they have on their satisfaction. In other words: not all features affect customer satisfaction equally and Professor Kano models the differing impacts. He does so by categorising them into threshold (basic), performance and excitement ones. These are the elements that colectively constitute the customer experience of your product

Kano theorized customers’ perception of satisfaction changes over time. Features that trigger delight today will, over time, come to be what all customers expect and request.

The graph of the model presented below may be helpful when defining each of the listed categories. The y-axis is customer satisfaction, and the x-axis is feature implementation.

The Five Categories

Threshold (Basic) Features

Kano Model focuses on users’ basic expectations first: features that constitute the baseline and that every product in the genre has. Those are the basic functionalities that users expect such as having breaks in a car or hot water in a hotel’s shower. Therefore they don’t get very excited about them.

From a customer’s perspective, threshold features are either present or not. They have a binary effect on satisfaction: if users expect a certain capability and it does not work — they will get frustrated, but when working well, it will not delight them. Such features can at most reach a neutral satisfaction.

Moreover, they are not easy to identify as users rarely state them: they simply seem too obvious to mention. In this case re-think the question and instead of asking e.g.:
Will the presence of a toilette paper in your hotel bathroom delight you?

Will the absence of a toilette paper in your hotel bathroom frustrate you?

Although the answer to the first question may seem a bit off: “Why should I get excited about it?” The answer to the second one might be a more definite “HELL YEAH” one. This is when Kano Questionnaire becomes handy (more on the topic later in the article).

When creating our product, we may be prone to quickly focus and put more emphasis on the new elements of our design. Yet first, we need to pay close attention to our user’s basic expectations. Look back on the way they are utilising our existing functionalities and make sure we are covering the baseline before moving on to the truly exciting ones.

Using thershold functionalities to built competitive advantage may be difficult in the long term, but believe me, you don’t want to fail in this area.

Performance Features

Performace features, are those which 1) are carefully evaluated by the customer and taken into consideration when making a purchase, 2) will increase your customer’s satisfaction the better you implement them. These are functionalities such as battery life or storage space.

More is generally better — these features have a linear effect on customer satisfaction. They will bring satisfaction to end-users when present, and dissatisfaction when missing or unfulfilled. They are noticed and discussed, therefore, if excelled, increase satisfaction proportionally. Also unlike the basic features, they are the easiest to ascertain from users as they often consitute as “stated” needs.

Moreover, the price consumer is willing to pay correlates with performance attributes therefore often those functionalities become competitors’ battleground: it is important for the designers to understand how much satisfaction is generated with each new feature.

Excitement Features

Excitement features also referred to exciters or delighters, embody the unexpected. Users do not anticipate them. Therefore we bring delight by over-delivering and performing the unordinary.

These type of features don’t result in dissatisfaction when missing, and the experience isn’t in any way negatively affected as they were never foreseen. However, if executed well, surprising customers with a delight attribute may cause their over-excitement with the product (and possibly encourage a word-of-mouth recommendation).

When unfolding possibilities of potential excitement generators, it is key we evaluate user’s context and the overall experience: delighters won’t work on frustrated users whom basic expectations aren’t meet. Designers simply need to ensure both ends.

On top of that, investing in excitement features delights users but they are often short-lifed.

What used to be cool becomes passé in no time, especially in the digital economy. What once was “the next best thing since sliced bread” becomes ordinary, and what used to delight customers becomes basic, expected and needed.

Once the competitors start implementing them together with everyone else on the market, delighters gradually shift their way down to basic expectations. In consequence, new ones have to be continuously provided. Let us remember, that cup holder and 1GB e-mail storage space were initially excitement attributes too.

Still, in the nowadays competitive market where grabbing and holding users’ attention becomes the next big challenge, delivering excitement features a.k.a. delightful little details can be a key to competitive advantage.

Indifferent Features

As the name suggests, indifferent features don’t evoke any feelings in the customers regardless for their presence or absence. Keeping that in mind, design and development of such features may be obsolete as time and resources invested do not bring a proportional return in the form of customer satisfaction. However, that is not always the case. At times we can make the right features answering the right problem yet make them too complicated for users to understand. In consequence, they can be indifferent to the customers as their value is not apparent to them.

Reverse Features

The feature is considered to be a reverse one when its absence brings customers’ satisfaction, and its presence results in dissatisfaction. Those are the ones that you want to identify and keep out of your product. Implementing such features increase costs of design and development while descreasing the value of the product for the customers.

A small examples of this type of quality was Microsoft’s little “paperclip helper”. Most people didn’t like it and it was even more annoying because it was difficult to turn off unless you knew the secret to disabling it.

Applying the Model

You may be ready to start building your product, but the list of features seems to have no end. As the functionalities were probably proposed not only by yourself but also your team, various stakeholders and the customers, it’s hard just to drop any. You can’t implement all at once either, and your product probably doesn’t even need all of them anyway. That is where the struggle begins. How do you create a backlog with the right features? Ones that will delight your users and keep them happy?

Kano Questionairre

To uncover attitudes toward given features, we can use Kano Questionnaire based on asking two pairs off questions:

  • Functional: “How do users feel if they have the feature?”
  • Dysfunctional: “How do users feel if they didn’t have the feature?”

The questions are not open-ended and require a specific answer. And as noted by Jan Moorman: “The responses listed below are not designed to offer a simple rating along the emotional response scale, but to foster a sense of expectation.” They allow to identify a reaction cathegory.

  1. I like it
  2. I expect it
  3. I’m neutral
  4. I can tolerate it
  5. I dislike it

Kano Model Mapping

Next, the model provides an evaluation table which combines functional and dysfunctional answers.

Throughout this article, I referred to categories as Threshold, Performance or Excitement ones, as more sources I came across used such nomenclature regarding Kano Model. Another terminology is respectively: Must-be, One-Dimensional, Attractive, as occurs in the table presented below:

A — Attractive (Excitement)
O — One dimensional (Performance)
M — Must-be (Threshold
I — Indifferent
R — Reverse
Q — Questionable (reflecting unclear results which cannot be graded).

Each answer pair at the intersection of the rows and columns shows the category type for a given feature. Take a look at the examplary answer: if a given user answers “1.Like” on the functional (positive) question and “2.Must be”on the dysfunctional (negative) one, the feature falls into the A category, i.e. “Attractive”.

Overall, this is an excellent and efficient way to give your customers voice to systematically validate your design ideas without unnecessarily spending your time and money by jumping right to work.

The Takeaway

I hope this post helped you grasp the concept of Kano Model and maybe even got you a bit excited about the possibilities it offers. To sum up:

  • Kano model can be used to clarify customers’ requirements for a given product and help deliver ones that result in high customer satisfaction,
  • Basic features may be sometimes difficult to uncover as users rarely state them, in which case Kano questionnaire may be helpful,
  • Performance features are usually the competitive battleground, yet might be insufficient to succeed if threshold features are absent or underdelivered,
  • Delivering excitement features is a continuous process,
  • Not all indifferent features are obsolete — at times they need to be simplified, or customers need to be educated on their value,
  • Implementing reverse features will decrease the value of the product for the customers,
  • Mapping out answers obtained with Kano Questionnaire enables categorizing the features (helpful when building and organising product’s backlog).

Further watching/listening:

  1. Building a Winning UX Strategy Using the Kano Model by Jared Spool

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I am a UX Designer at EL Passion and a music geek at heart. You can look me up on LinkedIn and follow on Facebook or Instagram.


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