Navigating Application Surface Area

The art of balancing innovation and agility.


March 4, 2024


Steve Berry

Navigating Application Surface Area

In digital product development, particularly for early-stage companies, there's a concept as fundamental yet often overlooked as the law of gravity in physics – application surface area. It's a principle that, when understood and respected, can mean the difference between a nimble, successful startup and one burdened by its creation.

Understanding Surface Area Growth

Imagine your product as a celestial body in space – a planet, if you will. Each feature you add to your website or application is like adding mass to this planet. As it grows, so does its gravitational pull, its inertia. It becomes increasingly challenging to alter its course or change its structure. This is the essence of increasing surface area – with each new feature, the complexity of your product doesn't just increase; it multiplies.

Flexibility vs. Feature Creep

There's a delicate balance to strike for early-stage companies, where the problem space is often unclear and the market unpredictable. It's tempting to add features to expand your product to make it more appealing and comprehensive. But the trap lies herein – the larger surface area means more mass and inertia. It makes your product harder to pivot, more expensive to maintain, and slower to adapt.

Keeping It Small and Agile

The key, especially in complex or novel problem spaces, is to keep the surface area of your application as small as possible. This isn't about limiting your vision but about embracing agility. A smaller, more focused product is like a nimble spacecraft – quick to move, easy to adjust, and far less costly in terms of resources and energy.

Embracing the Minimal

In practice, this means being ruthlessly selective about the features you include. It's about understanding your product's core value and resisting the urge to dilute it with non-essential additions. Every feature should be a carefully considered decision with a clear purpose and a defined role in the larger scheme of your product's universe.

The Wisdom of Controlled Expansion

Understand the gravity of each feature, the inertia it brings, and how it affects your product's ability to adapt and evolve. Keep your surface area manageable, your focus sharp, and your product agile. 

Steve Berry
Principal, Thought Merchants

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