Experience is the product

Came across this wonderful presentation on product design by Peter Merholz of Adaptive Path. Please take some time to go through it as it will certainly be useful to you at some point in your career.

Here are my notes from the presentation. These points would be much more clear if you see the presentation where Peter gives some very interesting examples to support it,

  • Don’t focus on technology or features. Focus on the experience that you want to create and then build a system that gets you there.
  • Technology as a product design strategy can be used only when the technology is disruptively new! e.g. First generation word processors were very difficult to use. You needed to remember many commands in order to work with it effectively. But because they were technologically far superior than the alternative «typewriter» of that era, they became popular.
  • Once the technology becomes standard, we tend to compete on features. And there are numerous examples where competing on features has been taken to the extreme. One such example is Microsoft WORD. A very good example of this phenomenon is VCR. When VCRs first came out, for the first time they allowed people to record live TV. This made them very popular. As years passed by VCR got bloated with features. So much so that people could not even program it anymore. So adding more and more features actually caused a decline in VCR usage. (Then came TiVo that once again revolutionized ease of use when it came to recording TV programs!)

Some takeaways from the presentation,

  • Designing from outside in…Christopher Alexander says, to design pathways first put the lawn in place, then see where people actually walk and then add paving!
  • Create an «experience vision» statement. e.g. Palm Pilot vision was,  a. Fits in shirt pocket, b. Syncs seamlessly with PC, c. Fast & easy to use and d. cost less than $299. Concise and clear vision that made Palm design a compelling one.
  • Leverage the System! This one is my most favorite! System as a whole does not get simpler however the experience of using the module of the system become much more enjoyable. e.g. iPod only allows you to do basic things like browse, play, rate audio songs. For everything else such as creating actual playlists you have to use iTunes. Thus Apple simply leveraged the system to remove unnecessary complexity from the everyday use of the product, iPod and the rest is history!


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Digite Product Management

Hi David,

You make an excellent point. Products that are outgrown the Innovators and Early Adopters life stages (Using the terminology from Crossing the Chasm) require simplicity. Complexity is tolerated in these early stages but despised in later.

I also like your point about SaaS products/companies skipping the early life cycle stages hence needing to be simpler! Which as you said is a very difficult thing to achieve.

-Suhas Kelkar
Vice President, Digite

David Locke
David Locke
13 years ago

Some markets require complexity. Feature bloat is only feature bloat once you move beyond the technical enthusiast, geek.

Apple removed the complexity when they entered a consumer market, because consumers demand sublimated interfaces. They demand the same power without all those controls.

There is a place for complexity, and a place for simplicity.

Since most companies just skip the early market and dive into SaaS, they need to go with simplicity. This is harder to do, without the experieces of complexity to direct your positioning of the pavement.

Simple is hard.

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