In one of my favorite episodes of The Simpsons, Homer discovers that he has a long-lost brother. While Homer is just a schlub working at the Springfield nuclear power plant, his brother Herb is the owner of a successful car company. Herb generously offers Homer the chance to design the next year’s model car, since Homer understands the sort of car that will appeal to the common man.
"The Homer" is a disaster that puts Herb’s company out of business and bankrupts Herb personally. What’s wrong with the car? The sticker price is $82,000–far out of the price range for "the common man–because of all the features Homer added, such as…
- A bubble dome for the driver, and another for passengers.
- An "extremely large beverage holder"
- Car horns that play "La Cucaracha"
- Shag carpeting
- Chrome air scoop and spoiler
- Tail fins
- Straps and muzzles for small children
You can probably guess where I’m going with this.
The Homer is a metaphor for product design gone wrong. Too many things that the customer might want, but really doesn’t need, at a price that no one wants to pay. Sound familiar?
I’ve seen more than my share of the software equivalent of "The Homer." The features arms race leads to the "Homerization" of products. Since TI companies don’t look at the cost of production in quite the same way as car companies, the sticker price often yo-yos between what the vendor thinks it should be and what the customer is willing to pay for the useful bits.
Now you know why I have a small plastic replica of The Homer on my bookshelf at work. It’s a good reminder of why more isn’t necessarily better.