UI Practicum #6. What if Your Users are Ignoring an Important Feature?

Published June 10, 2016 by Jane Portman

Sometimes SaaS founders end up in a very interesting situation. You have a cool feature in your web app, but users downright ignore it! It’s not that they can’t find this feature — they aren’t even looking for it.

Ouch! It hurts, because you invested your time into building this awesome, useful thing… And nobody cares for it. What can you do to prevent this from happening?

Today we’re helping Sachin Agarwal, the founder of Braid. Braid is a simple project management app built right inside Gmail. Here’s the full screen to give you an idea what it looks like:

What Braid looks like

Here’s how Sachin described the problem in his letter: “One of the issues we have is helping people understand that they can optionally assign a status to an item.”

We’re dealing with the same exact type of problem: the feature is useful, but optional. How can we help people discover it?

Make the feature physically visible

Let’s have a closer look at the task list, and see how the status can be assigned:

Status feature in Braid

Design-wise, the status is implemented well. The label is small, but you wouldn’t expect anything more dramatic for a status tag. The dropdown is also easy to work with.

But then we see two problems going hand-in-hand with each other.

Problem A. You’re relying on a hover effect to show the status control. It’s never the best idea to rely on hover too much. You can sometimes do that to show essential Edit/Delete icons — because these features are critical and people would go hunting for them anyways. But in our case, the functionality is not critical, so nobody is specifically looking for it.

Problem B. If none of the tasks have a status (which happens by default) then the task list is totally blank when we look at the right side — where status should happen. Who would guess there’s hidden functionality in a nice clean list?

The most straightforward solution to both problems would be placing static status controls against each item, even if the status is not set:

Make status controls visible at all times

This solution is bulletproof, but it’s not the most elegant one. We can deal with the problem better!

Bake the feature into the workflow

The next level of improvements is more strategic. Nobody’s looking for the feature because they haven’t seen it in other parts of the workflow. If we somehow engage them with a task status earlier, they will know it exists!

The perfect way to do that is to assign status immediately as the task is posted. You could just add this line to the posting area, and be done, right? But not just that. Let’s assign a default value and let users change it if they want.

For a project management app, To Do status is naturally the first step for all new tasks. Here’s what the posting process would look like:

Posting process with added status feature

This way the feature will always be in use. No need to discover it at all — it’s employed automatically. Magic!

Add educational bells and whistles

Now that the feature is baked into the process, you can primarily rest. But you can also use the following methods to increase user awareness and educate them about your product:

If you’re desperate and don’t know how to improve the design itself, you can use educational methods alone — and hope they would be enough to draw user’s attention. But these bells and whistles are always secondary to a clear, obvious workflow.


When your users seem to ignore an important feature, follow these steps.

Struggling with a UI/UX challenge in your own product? Send in the screenshots at jane@uibreakfast.com, and I’ll tear down the most interesting situations here in UI Practicum, absolutely free. Want to support my writing? Contribute by purchasing a subscription here.

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