The magic in products is knowing what to leave in

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Reading Mark Suster’s excellent post on product design left me with this thought – what if more products were literally designed by the customer? As a thought experiment, leave aside any skepticism you have about the customer making bad choices (e.g. Faster horses vs. a Model T Ford) and imagine what these products might look like when released.

Products designed for the customer start very simply, and focus on a minimum number of clicks to get something done. Great examples of this include Google’s search button and Uber’s button to summon a car. Each of these hide immense complexity yet don’t ask the customer to understand how all of those levers and dials work.

Next, these products work everywhere and feel the same everywhere. When you pick up different Apple products or use the Apple web site, these pieces of the “product” – really, the overall customer experience – feel like a coherent brand. Perhaps the best examples of brand coherence are Coca-cola, Starbucks, and McDonalds. You may not like all of the brand attributes of these brands, but you know what you’re going to get when you find them anywhere in the world.

Finally, the product designed for the customer needs to be personalized only for that customer. It is easy to make it unique. On an industrial scale, think about what Toyota does in just in time manufacturing, building a car that matches an individual customer’s orders. Or Makerbot, which literally prints the product you need from raw materials. Or, which helps you assemble your own instant view media catalog. Uniqueness – or the feeling of “that’s mine – keeps the customer coming back over and over again.

Yet that feeling of uniqueness must always be convenient and easy. The consumer benefit for a product is something the customer needs – even if they didn’t know they needed it before they learned about it. Great products focus and amplify customer need while addressing that need with the simplest interface possible. So the next time you deliver a prototype to the customer, take something out and see if they notice. When the customer asks you, “where is that thing I found really useful?” you’ll know what to put back in.


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