On Generative Features

Or, the Value of ‘Underspecifying’ a Product Feature

Photo by Frank Vessia on Unsplash
Remember when twitter had stars?

We want to make Twitter easier and more rewarding to use, and we know that at times the star could be confusing, especially to newcomers…

The differences between designing for ‘paths’ vs ‘sandboxes’
Flagging topics in Slack for future discussion
Emojis for voting on categories!

Me: We should build this thing

PM: Why?

Me: I think there’s a lot of cool things it might allow people to do.

PM: Ok. But, what problem does this solve for the user?

The distinction between Generative and Underspecified Features may be overthinking things, but…whatever.
Who could have predicted this!
Lost in the maze, together!

The role of design in rich forms of play, such as skateboarding, is facilitatory. Designers provide tools for people to play with.

It is hard to predict what people will do exactly with your tools. This is OK. In fact it is best to leave room for unexpected uses.

Underspecified, playful tools can be used for learning. People can use them to explore complex concepts on their own terms.


“Don’t see yourself as a maker of media, but as a creator of tools. The use of which you can never fully predict. There’s two ways to handle this uncertainty: one — try to eliminate any chance of people messing with it, or two — embrace this uncertainty, and leave open opportunities for new play forms.”

— Kars Alfrinck, on his stance as a designer.




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Stephen P. Anderson

Speaker, educator, and design leader. On a mission to make learning the hard stuff fun, by creating ‘things to think with’ and ‘spaces’ for generative play.