With technology moving at such a fast pace, countless innovations and products are constantly introduced. Particularly in the tech industry, where rapid iteration is practiced widely, products can be outdated even after a year of introduction. New innovations and changing/adapting consumer tastes affect the life-cycle of a product.
With so many tech products being released all the time, what makes a product great?What separates the mass of mediocre products from those that are exceptional, that are truly delightful?
At the core of it, a product is designed to meet a customer need or desire. A great product not only meets a customer’s need or desire, but goes beyond the function of meeting a need to delighting a customer.
Meeting user needs and going beyond to delight a customer requires an intimate understanding of who the user is and what their needs are. Only once an understanding of the user and their needs has been achieved can a great product be conceived. An understanding of the user can be obtained through quantitative (eg. usage metrics) and qualitative (eg. user research studies). I wrote about our experiences in user research while working on our startup, Mason Park.
The deep understanding of the customer acts as inputs that guide all aspects of the product. In this post I’ll break down the components I believe are crucial to a great product:
- Functional value
- Ease of use, low friction
To help illustrate, I’ll use a a couple of products I’ve encountered in 2018 as examples that I found to be wonderful from a customer perspective: Bird, an electric scooter rental service, and Amazon Go, a cashier-less convenience store.
Lovable Product – Functional Value
Functional value addresses how well a product accomplishes the intended goal. In other words, does a product accomplish what the user desires from it?
Bird scooters, dockless electric scooters unlocked via smartphone, meet the user need transportation over a short distance (a few miles). A user hops on a scooter and ride to their desired destination. At a minimum, it meets a user need of transportation. Once the user need is met at a minimum level, the next level is how well the product meets a customer’s need relative to alternatives.
For getting around in short distances, one could ride a bicycle, call an Uber/Lyft, or take public transportation, among other options. When compared to alternatives, a Bird scooter is in many cases functionally superior. When getting from point A to point B, speed and cost are important factors. Bird scooters, offer easier accessibility (if you happen to live in an area where they operate), faster travel speed than alternatives such as Uber/Lyft and public transportation, and a lower or equal cost to alternatives. Bird scooters, however aren’t an all encompassing transportation solution. Cold, snowy, or wet weather would seriously detract from a scooter’s appeal compared to an alternative such as a car.
With convenience stores and markets, a customer is looking for quick access to items needed immediately, such as snacks, meals, and daily essentials. Functionally, for a customer looking for a grab and go snack, for example, a store would need to provide the right products, at the right price, and conveniently. Amazon Go shines functionally because it carries a great selection of items for its target user (office workers during work hours), at a great price, and of course with unmatched convenience in the form of cashier-less shopping.
Lovable Product – Ease of Use
A product that functionally meets a user’s need but is difficult to use causes user friction at best, and product abandonment at worst.
New technology products, which often introduce entirely new experiences for users, in particular need to be obvious and low friction to use. Does the product remove as many of the barriers to use as possible? And for the interactions required, is it obvious and simple to interact with?
I loved Snap’s Spectacles when they were first introduced. I wanted something to capture life’s memories in a simple and in a fashion that didn’t ruin the moment. While recording videos were a cinch, exporting the videos was clumsy, slow, and unreliable. Functionally, the product did what I wanted, but the clumsy process to the desired end product, a video of my memories I could store and share, meant that while I shot plenty of videos, I didn’t actually end up with many videos to share and watch. However, I always get a good laugh out of my attempted photo of a monkey, as captured by my Spectacles.
With Bird, I found the onboarding process to be simple and straightforward. The first time I wanted to use a Bird scooter, I was in a hurry to meet friends for dinner. I needed to register an account, unlock the scooter, and get going ASAP. With clever use of the smartphone camera, I was able to scan the necessary information to register on the spot and unlock the scooter as well. From then on, locating and unlocking a scooter could be done as quick as I could walk to a scooter. While it was a new experience, Bird had made it easy to figure out and continued to be low friction.
Shopping at a store is very straightforward: You find what you want and take it to the cashier usually at the store exit. It’s simple and universally understood. Now imagine the cashier no longer exists, how would customers know what to do? And how could it actually be easier than what it is already? (especially since it’s already pretty easy) Amazon Go tackles this marvelously.
To enter Amazon Go, a customer will download the Amazon Go app which will display the unique QR code to enter and track a customer’s purchases. Admittedly, this first time action could be unfamiliar to some customers, particularly those who aren’t accustomed to downloading apps on their smartphones. To remedy this, Amazon has placed store staff at the entrances to answer any questions and help make the experience as easy as possible. Entry and exit from the store is through a set of turnstiles, which have been designed to be as obvious as possible, which is particularly important since the use case for customers is entirely new. Once in the store, the store itself is setup like a normal grocery or convenience store. Customers browse and interact with products just as they normally would, which makes things familiar and easy for customers.
Amazon Go is designed to be low-friction, even for first time users
Lovable Product – Delight
A functional product that is also easy to use is quite likely to be a decent product already. The final differentiation to a lovable product would be how much a product delights its user. Delight encompasses feelings of joy, or wonder, or awe when a user encounters a product. Delight can occur when a product is far superior than alternatives. Or when a product solves needs customers didn’t know they had. Or it solves a need in a novel way. Delight can also occur from aesthetics, a product can convey a sense of beauty from the design – colors, ..
Bird scooters, with the simple to use app to locate and unlock scooters, combined with the fun and usefulness of an electric scooter result in surprisingly fun, efficient, and low cost transportation. Bird scooters opened up an entirely new model of transportation, one that was not only faster than alternatives, but also more fun and more convenient. These factors combined to a delightful product experience that drew a smile to my face and that I looked forward to using more.
Shopping within Amazon Go is nice, but I wouldn’t say it’s extraordinary. The selection is great, products are easy to find, and the staff are excellent. But these shopping characteristics are commonplace.
The moment of delight with Amazon Go is captured when the shopping is done and you’re ready to leave, and captured accurately with the store catch-phrase “Just Walk Out.” The first time somebody shops at Amazon Go and is ready to leave, they invariably look around and confirm with the staff what to do next. This happens even when people know the entire premise of the store is checkout less shopping. We’ve become so accustomed to the traditional checkout experience that it feels strange, in a moment of bewilderment to just walk out with the items we’ve selected.
Even after several visits to Amazon Go, I feel a tinge of anxiety as I stuff items directly into my pocket and leave, almost as if I was shoplifting. The wonder of the seamless experience combined with the joy of skipping dreaded checkout lines leads to the delight as the final layer to a lovable product.
As Arthur Clarke’s famous quote goes, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”
Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic – Arthur Clarke
A Word of Caution on Delight
While delight is necessary for a lovable product, once achieved however, delight is fleeting. What is awe-inspiring today becomes commonplace and mundane tomorrow. Thus the best companies and products constantly raise the bar on what they deliver. To paraphrase Jeff Bezo’s: customers are divinely discontent, their expectations are never static – they go up.
Customers are divinely discontent, their expectations are never static
It’s very likely that once electric scooters and cashier-less shopping proliferates and becomes commonplace, the 2018 experience of each will no longer be sufficient as a lovable product. This phenomenon can be observed through countless examples. The first iphone, released in 2007, was a ground breaking unbelievable piece of technology. Today, a 3.5″ non-HD phone with a slow internet connection is laughable.
It’ll be interesting to see how both Bird (and personal transportation) and Amazon Go (brick and mortar shopping) will continue to evolve as today’s technology becomes the ordinary.
Lovable isn’t just for Silicon Valley Tech
Products are introduced to accomplish a need or desire for customers. While it’s unsurprising that technical marvels like smartphones, electric scooters, and checkout-less shopping are lovable products, the same principles described can just as well apply to many products and services. I love my Burton Custom 20th anniversary snowboard because it not only rides extraordinarily well, but it delights with the nostalgia of early models from my childhood. My Nina blender does what it’s supposed to do: blend, but it does so in a manner that is much faster, easier, and cleaner than the traditional blender I was accustomed to. Technology has enabled me to learn a new language in a sustainable and fun method.
A product that accomplishes its intended goal is functional and useful. A product that is also easy to use and low-friction enables customers to continue using the product. Finally, a product that, on top of everything else, delights customers, creates a truly lovable product.