The joy of products. Well, ok, that is pretty rare. Why do you think that is? I personally believe it is because creators of products often do not think about the relationship between user and product. A relationship I hear you cry?! Yes, a relationship. We all have relationships with the environment around us whether it be our favourite mug, our car or simply the dustbin. We interact with these entities on a daily basis. However some, we interact with more.
Some we actually enjoy interacting with.
That’s right, enjoyment from interacting with non-human objects, how bizarre. But the interesting thing is that better products do not always build better relationships. Imagine, if James Dyson had created his bagless vacuum cleaner but it looked and felt the same as any other cleaner on the market. The impact would have been minimal. In fact, the bagless bit is probably the least important. Dyson’s styling of the cleaner made it a desirable item, something we would be happy to spend time with, even look forward to interacting with. It was a shift in relationship with an otherwise ugly and cumbersome object often hidden away.
Dyson changed the relationship from distaste to desire.
So what happens when we come to the web & mobile? If you follow me on twitter you will undoubtedly have heard me complaining about the user experience of websites, apps, CRM. You name it, if I’ve interacted with it, and it’s been bad then I have probably mentioned it. It all seems so simple to me and I really find it hard to comprehend why some products are made so badly?!
The twitter app for iPhone is an example of how to continuously make a good product worse. The latest iteration of ignorance has seen a shift so big in awfulness that I deleted the app altogether. I’ve used that application since I ‘bought’ it when it was called tweetie 2 (before the curse of the twitter acquisition). The biggest issue is that they have now hidden direct messages! HIDDEN! Also if once you have found them and someone has spammed you then if you click on their profile image it no longer takes you to their account so you can block them. No. You now have to remember their username and then search for them and then block them.
Good product to terrible product, so bad I could no longer spend any more time with it.
This matter of spending time with products leads me on to why I have titled this piece ‘Product as Place’. It’s because when I use an application or product I am there, in the moment, in that place and I rely on good architects and interior designers to make my time there a pleasant one, regardless of what it is i am trying to do. The difference is that I am choosing to be in these places rather than it being just circumstance. This concept really doesn’t sound that complicated to me, nor obtuse. Those who build applications have already been given the titles of architect, engineer and designer but more often than not I find myself being pushed towards the brutalist equivalent of a hi-rise council flat. Far from ideal.
Would you spend your time in the sewers if you didn’t have to? I very much doubt it. But for some reason product creators seem to think that we do.
An ugly website is a cave, a bad UX a labyrinth
If you know better is achievable then it’s like sitting in a cave facing a palace. It makes you mad to get lost in the labyrinth when you know they could have built a straight path. If you wonder what a palace might look like (for an application) then download Path which has just been refreshed to show the best UI i have ever seen on a touchscreen device. They have really understood what it is to treat product as a place. You know this as a user when you start pressing buttons not for their functionality but for the joy of the animation when you do so. This delight is what makes a product become a palace.
If you need further evidence of this philosophy then look no further than apple. They NEVER offer you the best technical spec on any of their devices and rarely the best price to boot. But what they are selling you every time is a palace, with no mazes or hidden doors. That is what you are really buying when you purchase one of their products.
Please please please, everybody, spend some time with your products and ask yourself. Do you enjoy being there? Is it a pleasant experience? If given the choice would you happily come back?
If you’re answer is yes to any of these then you are probably in the wrong job (i.e. delusional) or lucky enough to be in the 1% of people who do make decent products.