Decoding Products

Here is simple, but powerful way to decode products.

  • Map out the product’s qualities – both the physical qualities, as well as its character.
  • Figure out the interaction metaphor. What is using the product feel like?
  • Regress to context factors – what are the truths about the world in which this product was created or popularized?

Let’s have a look at an example, a simple product – post-it notes.

Screen Shot 2017-10-19 at 9.25.11 PM

Let’s look at some of the Product Qualities

Screen Shot 2017-10-19 at 9.38.28 PM

There can be much more to this list, but we can start from here.

Now, let’s figure out what the interaction with them feels like. I feel challenged by this, but it also yields insights.

  • Constrained (when writing on a note)
  • Careful Consideration – when you are drawing on it
  • Carefulness – when making a to-do list on it
  • Like a toy – can be cut/bent, is colorful
  • Informality – you can just take a new note if old is messed
  • Like building something

Like Lego Bricks – for ideas.

Yes, I like this one, working with post-its is like playing with Lego-Bricks – for ideas.

Now the most interesting part, the context factors, that is, what did the maker of this product believe to be true about the world? These might not be the exact same as we think, but they can be uncannily close, and trying this out will for sure give some insights. Let’s give it a whirl:

  • Innovation is important
  • Ideation is important
  • Having a lot of ideas matters
  • Connecting ideas is important
  • New ideas can be formed by connecting existing ideas
  • People value creativity
  • People like to play
  • Playfulness can lead to good ideas
  • Basic needs of society are met, so people focus on creating more delightful products
  • The world has a lot of distractions and choices – hence we need careful to-do lists which attract our attention from the noise.
  • In a distracted age, focus becomes a very important quality

It strongly brings out the point that the maker(s) of this product believed in the power of ideas. You can’t imagine these in a law firm or an accounting firm. Or in a bygone era of kings (think Game of Thrones, but yeah maybe Arya would write her list on a post-it). And you can see them all over in design consulting firms and product-based companies. I would not be surprised to find them in ad agencies either.

Now truth be told, these are not what the designer of post-its had in mind. He was looking for a super-strong adhesive. But the point here is not to arrive at the absolute truth, but to deepen your understanding of products. To have an opinion on the world, and thus create products which match that worldview.

I have tried this exercise around 20 times and found myself stumbling on remarkable insights, and the more you do it, the more fun it gets, though you do need to suspend your strictly logical mind for sometime.


Note: These concepts are taken from the book ‘Vision in Design‘, which I recommend for every maker.

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