Monday, November 29, 2010

Why Products are Like People (Aka: My Dear Friend, The Toaster)

I'm endlessly fascinated by the study of why people love one product more than another (or choose, or adopt, etc).  It's not that complicated or erratic really. In fact, I think there's a fairly predictable set of patterns and principles inherent in the products that people love, and it's likely going to be included in my masters thesis next year. For now, this entry is just a variation on that concept. This is just a hunch that I would really be interested in getting feedback on. The hunch is that people seek out the same qualities in products as they do in people.

If you think I'm crazy, consider knowing a person with the following qualities:

  • good communicator
  • enjoyable
  • accommodating
  • accessible but gives you free space 
  • trustworthy
  • flexible to change
  • well-kept appearance  
I imagine this would be a person that you would like. Now, consider a product with the following qualities: 
  • easy-to-understand
  • enjoyable 
  • useful
  • accessible but non-obtrusive 
  • dependable 
  • adaptable/customizable 
  • nicely designed
Much like the person, I expect this is a product that you would enjoy owning and using. The commonality between person and product affection is probably not very shocking in any way. And of course, I wrote this list with this hunch in mind, so it's extremely self-fulfilling. However, it's worth considering what's not included in that list to get an understanding of the implications this concept may have on product design and development. Specifically, I'm thinking about performance...

There's something exciting about a product with all the bells and whistles and performance measures way beyond your needs. Just the same, it may excite you to know the best athlete in school, the best looking girl, or the smartest person you know. For both the product and the person, these things are great and potentially useful in some circumstances, but for the most part, they aren't the reason you like them. The basic common principles above are essentials for truly liking a person or product, while unnecessarily high performance and other high-level attributes are not. In fact, one could argue that these non-essentials even become a detriment as they hit a certain level. After all, do you really want to be friends with the smartest person you know? 

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