Skip to main content

The soul of a product

I ended up reading this great article about the design behind Ice Cream Sandwich over the weekend, and the one word that stayed with me was "soul."

More specifically the idea of attempting to define the "soul" of product, and how that had informed some of their design choices. The more I thought about it, the more I realized just how much finding, defining and then communicating the "soul" of your product can help you ship considerably better products.

Why?

Product managers and designers try to build products by thinking about the user:
  • what users really need
  • how they'll think 
  • and then how those needs can be best served by the product's design.
Putting the user first is the right thing to do, but  thinking about the point of view of the product - i.e. its soul - can help you do last bullet significantly better.

Its the "soul" (or personality, if you prefer) of the product that decides if you decide go with a fail whale or just put up a standard 404 page and call it a day.

But where does that soul come from? And how does it manifest itself?

In a smaller company, or even if its a larger company but with a particularly opinionated and empowered design leader, the personality that the product is imbued with often comes from that person (occasionally persons.)

The product finds its "soul" in the sensibilities of individuals. In a larger company, or with an established product, this is harder to do and often the lack of a strong point of view means designs follow templates, the easiest path gets taken, there's a hotch-potch of ideas, and originality is missing because its hard and its risky. 'Standard' is hard to get wrong and is harder to fault.

Hence:

The importance of defining the soul. Just as a mission statement provides a shortcut to individuals to help them make decisions consistent with the long-term goal of a team or a company, defining the soul of the product and communicating it helps people make product and design decisions that helps give the product a point of view and that serves users better.

I haven't really thought about it in this way until the last week, but I went through the mental exercise of defining the soul of the last few things I'd worked on and realized it would have helped us ship a better product each time; in some case significantly so - and we'd have had a lot more fun doing it.

I still need to think about the best way to communicate this to others (without sounding like an idiot), but I'm now looking forward to thinking about that. :-)

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Yup - humans still lack humanity

Every once in a while, I'm reminded that humans can be completely lacking in humanity.

My wife had the following experience yesterday on her ride back home. She got on the train and found a seat. The train was unusually crowded and it looked a lot of people had to stand for a long ride. An elderly Asian gentleman carrying a few things in both hands, was looking for spot, started to complain smilingly about the train being so full and stood in the aisle at the back of the carriage some seats away from her.

She expected someone closer to gentleman in the aisle (lots of younger people on the train) to give him their seat.

No one did.

The train started, and it was clear the man was having a lot of trouble standing up. Then at the next stop there was actually an announcement saying the train was full so please give up your seats to people who needed them.

Still nobody moved.

My wife got up walked to the end of the train and asked the gentleman to go over to her seat. She still couldn&#…

Whimsy when I changed my profile picture...

I changed by profile picture at work.



Later in the day, two people on my team had changed their profile pictures to these.. :-)



It made my day!

I changed my profile pic again today. Let's see how fast anyone catches on this time. :-)

Measure f-ing everything, and assume f-ing nothing!! - Or how mentoring ruined lives :-(

I've been really enjoying the Freakonomics podcast of late. This episode and the lesson we should take a away from it, was a stark reminder of one of the most important things we should be doing - but often don't - in building products or making any decisions: measuring the impact of absolutely everything we do, including the things that seem obviously good.

I recommend listening to the podcast if you have the time, but here's the summary. Stephen Dubner describes the Cambridge Sommerville Youth Study. The impact of social intervention programs in general is hard to measure and so they seldom are. This was the first attempt at measuring the impact over a long period of time.

It's a great story and there are a few good take-aways, but here's the main one: troubled or at-risk youth that received mentoring (good mentoring!) had worse life outcomes across every dimension than the kids that were left alone. Despite the recipients saying that the mentoring was incredibl…