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Beyond the Bullet Point

Last week, my colleague Dan wrote an excellent post on the Adaptive Path blog about the role that features play in product design and marketing. It was in response to a New Yorker column on how people decide to buy products because they have more features, but then return them because they can’t figure out the products because they are too complex.

When I originally read the New Yorker column (at some point on my vacation), my first thought was, “Well, that makes sense *now*, but is it changing?” This kinda dovetails with the essay I wrote for Core77. What we’re seeing, increasingly, is that the products are succeeding when not competing on features, but focusing on the gestalt of the experience that people are having with them.

I wonder if consumers are becoming more features-savvy, in the same way that they’re becoming advertising and marketing savvy. That we might be at a point of relatively low sophistication in terms of understanding exactly what makes us happy in the products we purchase, but that in 3 to 5 to 10 years, purchasers won’t be comparing the lengths of bullet-pointed lists of product features, but instead orient to some understanding of how using the product makes them feel.

  1. Back in the olden 1980s, TVs, VCRs, as well as other electronics and automotives exploded with what we called “bells and whistles”, essentially unnecessary but fun features.

    Purists might decry them, but I say Clang Clang! Toot Toot!

  2. Hi,

    First movers and early adopters are tech savvy, and enjoy all the features of new products. Once the products meet the masses, all the features becomes a real problem, though, as they are hard to communicate and adobt by the users.

    Think of the flat panel tv compared to the digital video recorder in the early ninetees. Most people who know both technologies would agree that the dvr has greater impact and is thecnically a greater leap than the flat panel tvs, which has actually poorer picture quality than old fashioned models.

    But because the flat panel tv solved a space- and “niceness” problem, and is genereally a “cool thing to watch superbowl” with friends, the sales of these electronics by far supercided the sales of the hard-to-explain and why-would-i-need-another-vcr reception of the dvr.

    The same kind of comparison is made by Y&R in their “my brain hurts” presentation, but in fact applies a lot of todays products. As you’ve earlier mentioned, the Kodak camera is a good example – if the product is simple enough, the target group is bigger.

    In fact, you can conclude that the more popular a product is, the simpler it is, for the simple fact that everybody need to understand what it is and why they need it.

    Thats also why theres no reason for Apple to shout about the camera in the Iphone – it just clutters up communication about it, keeping people from buying it, if they already have a nice camera.

    Frederik Andersen,
    industrial designer,
    Goodmorning Technology

  3. Poorer picture quality? Have you checked your prescription lenses in the past ten years? And what’s the bad thing about “niceness” and “cool…” sharing? As opposed viewing alone, in the dark, in a closet?

    I do love my DVR, but I have been operating on the same principal for decades, using up to four VCRs at a time to accomplish the same result. Convenience–yes. Great leap–eh.

    But I have to wonder, as do you, about the pre-release mania for the coming iPhone. Can it really have a useful advantage, or is it just another yuppie wet dream possession?

  4. BJMe: woah woah – i didn’t say theres anything wrong with designing for niceness, not at all. it’s not even close to my point. the point was – and please don’t read this as sarcastic or ironic, that if you focus on a single feature – an easy to understand feature – your target audience is evidently much bigger than if you try to accomplish too much in a hard-to-communicate feature.

    the dvr vs. flatpanel tv is a rather good example of that, and the greater leap is used in direct comparison with a flatpanel tv (not in comparison with, say, general genetical science).

    hope the point is made more clearly now,


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