Reflection: What Makes a Great Product?
Every day we are surrounded by the promise of life-improvers, time-savers, quick-fixes, and innovations you just can’t live without. But what makes a great product? What is the line that separates a good product from a great one? This is what we are here today to explore.
Good product design meets a few simple guidelines: 1. Is it relevant and available? 2. Is it approachable and easy to use? 3. Does it deliver the desired outcome as expected?
A product must first be available and known to its target audience, and must be something they want or need. Without these, there is no purpose in its existence. What this means is that it should be present in areas where the target audience is present, whether that be a physical or digital space. This may also mean it is available in areas that target a similar demographic or related product in order to connect the two for those already engaged with the other product. It must also make an enticing pitch in a brief amount of time (think billboard, commercial, or targeted ad) to capture the attention of the target.
Once the above has been met, the next crucial step is to offer something that is easy to use. This may mean different things depending on the education or specialization of the target audience, but whatever product is being designed, it must communicate to the user in a way that is familiar and easy to navigate. If it looks or sounds too complicated, there is a strong change that the product will be discarded or deleted before it ever gets a chance to do its job.
Lastly, and arguably the most important aspect of good design, is whether the product delivers the desired result and can do so within the timeframe the user expects to receive it in. There is little more frustrating than the promise of a simple-to-use guide that only leads to confusion, frustration, and a bunch of parts that do not add up to a whole (We’ve all been there, IKEA). The design should look and feel familiar so that it takes little time to learn and can deliver results in the smallest amount of time possible. Although a simple concept, this bears a heavy load and many, many layers of underlying research and development to accomplish.
So then, what makes a product not just good, but great? I would argue that not only must it meet the minimum requirements above, but also consistently deliver more than promised and possibly in unexpected ways.
The first “great” distinguisher is a product’s ability to offer a seemingly complex or customized solution in a simple way. Not only does it meet the needs of the intended target user more efficiently, but may also invite a broader target audience who may not the have specialized training typically required or would otherwise be intimidated. Although there are always exceptions, it is best to approach a design as if it is for someone who has never heard of it, seen it, or experienced it. If it can be used by anyone with minimal friction, you’ve designed a great product.
The second distinguisher is the ability to be intuitive and predictive. A great product will go above and beyond just the outcome by predicting the way a product will be used or may be used in the future, and then removing as many barriers as possible that would prevent someone from reaching the finish line. A great example of this is Amazon, who has mastered the art of delivering exactly what we all want: an easier, better, faster, user-centric buying experience. And they continue to add more convenience as time goes on, making it near impossible not to want to partake in and share the experience.
Want a specific product but don’t know where to buy it? Amazon’s got it. Don’t know what it’s called? Take a picture or scan a barcode to find it. Don’t like the price? Shop alternate sellers or similar recommended products. Want to shop the best of the best? Filter your results by the categories that matter most to you. Know what you want and just need to buy it? Use the 1-click purchase button and be done. Know what you want but can’t buy it now? Add to a wish list or to the cart and use the “save for later” feature. Need it right away? Prime offers same or next day delivery and nearby pickup options. Want to know where your order is? Sign up for text and e-mail alerts to watch the entire journey to your doorstep. Need help? Chat with someone right now. Bought the wrong thing or don’t like it? Free returns (and sometimes throw in a 20% off Kohl’s coupon while you’re at it). They’ve removed all of the friction points associated with online shopping and made it so easy that it has resulted in the gold standard that we have now come to expect everywhere else.
The third factor that distinguishes the best products is the ability to connect with the user on an emotional level. Once a user is emotionally bought-in, whether it be due to the way the product makes them feel, the connection they feel to the mission, vision, and values of the company, or because the product fulfills some emotional need that was not otherwise met, it is unlikely they will look elsewhere for a solution and may even promote the product among their networks. This factor creates the strongest bond between user and product; the feeling that their quality of life has improved so significantly that they cannot live without it and never want to again.
No matter the product, it must meet the minimum requirements of relevancy, approachability & availability, and an ability to deliver on their promise. This will get you out of the gate. The more rewarding and certainly more elusive challenge, however, to is to identify with the end user on a personal and emotional level in order to secure true brand loyalty, longevity, and continued success.