What separates a great product from a good product

Have you ever imagined life being like an escape room? Think about it. You’re locked up in this space and you have figure out how to beat the room by picking up clues, often hidden in plain sight. And of course, there’s the limited amount of time you have to figure things out. It’s similar to getting stuck in The Matrix and having your perception of reality skewed a little bit.

(Just in case you haven’t had the experience, an escape room is a game in which players work together to solve puzzles and accomplish tasks to complete a specific mission within a limited amount of time.)

Well, the other day, our Kingdom Branding team went to a virtual escape room at the Redline VR. We put on our VR headsets, and quickly entered a mysterious, dingy, virtual room. This digital world felt so real because we could see, touch, and almost feel the presence of every object in the space. And yes, we had only one hour to figure things out and escape!!

Once inside the virtual escape room, we had to find clues to unlock the keypads at the iron doors. You got through 3 rooms and you had won. Although we didn’t get out of the escape room, and got stuck in Room 2, it was still a fun experience. I would definitely pay to experience it again.

A few days passed, and I couldn’t help but ask myself, why did we pay so much money to live in a virtual world filled with unexpected outcomes? And maybe more broadly, why do we spend so much time trying to build new virtual worlds with enormous possibilities? Why are we so engrossed in experiences like these?

Well, it’s because our brains are obsessed with change. We grab the slightest opportunity to change our environments, and the things we find around us. We may not fully understand the world we live in, but we try our hardest to interpret it. It was this same curiosity that sparked Ingrid Fetell Lee to question the reason why tangible objects, like Peruvian pottery or a shiny bracelet, could result in something as intangible as joy. She went through a visual exploration of joy, and she came across forms, colors, textures, and lines in nature that elicited calmness and joy.

To her greatest surprise, she noticed a dichotomy between the natural world around her and the one we had built for ourselves. She started to notice the contrast between the plain, dark, office buildings, and the sheer, lustrous, beauty of nature. We had gotten on such a huge tangent, it was hard to trace back our steps. In many ways, I recognize her frustrations. When did we forget that the physical spaces we stay in and the things we create affect our behaviors?

Moodboard from Ingrid Fetell Lee’s Ted Talk

Although our environments sometimes appear drab and locked to natural laws, our digital worlds don’t need to follow that pattern. In recent decades, we’ve started to see a rise in creating pleasant user experiences on websites. We’ve started to develop websites that are immersive, animated, and visually pleasing. There is a desire to see people fully participating in the digital worlds we create. Now, websites are telling stories rather than giving information. Design has made it easier to interpret data and help people engage in relevant content.

We no longer see design as an afterthought, but a major driver of positive change. A little tweak in user experience, and you’ve got people changing their behaviors. Volkswagen noticed this when they launched their social campaign on the staircase of the Odenplan subway station in Stockholm. In a bid to encourage people to use the stairs, they analyzed the experience between walking up the stairs and using the escalators. This observation led to insight. People were not taking the stairs because of the experience they had with them. They went back to the drawing board and decided to embed piano keys on the staircase. This little change drastically changed user behavior, even the elderly found it amusing. People were creating music in their lives just by taking the stairs, and very soon, no one wanted to use the escalators anymore.

If you want to positively change user behavior, improve the experience, it’s that simple. Tony Fadell knew this when he worked as a designer for Apple. In his Ted talk, The first secret to design is noticing, he talked of the revolutionary things Apple had done in the tech industry. Apple recognized the consumer’s journey the moment before the product and the period after the product had been purchased. He particularly gave credit to Steve Jobs. Jobs had noticed that after a phone was purchased, the user had to recharge the phone battery and wait a couple of hours before they could use their device. Apple simply cut the wait and made their phones ready to use as soon as the phone was purchased, and it became a game-changer. Jobs had simply stepped back, recognized these little details, and created an experience.

What separates an iPhone from a Samsung or a Motorola? It’s not the form or the function of the product, but the pleasant experiences people associate with it. In the case of iPhones, it could stem from the sleekness of the aluminum case, the abstract forms and stock photos you see on its interface, the sound it makes when you send a text message or get a call, or the process of unboxing your new device. All these are an addition to its form and function. Apple has studied and mastered its users in such a way that people are emotionally invested in their product.

For the longest time, I always wondered what separated a great product from a good product. I quickly discovered that it was the experience. It is said that a good product is one in which its form follows function. However, a great product is one that goes beyond form and function, it engages its audience through pleasant experiences.

“Our brains are obsessed with change.”

“A great product is one that goes beyond form and function, it engages its audience through pleasant experiences.“

“We no longer see design as an afterthought, but a major driver of positive change.”

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