My 10 Favorite Products & Experiences of 2016
If Oprah can have a list of her favorite things, why can’t we all?
Over the holidays, as I was drinking wine and lamenting the dumpster fire of a year 2016 was, I thought it would be good to try and think about the products and experiences that stood out to me for being uniquely delightful in hopes that they may bring some happiness or inspiration to others as we head into 2017.
Hopefully something in here brings you joy, inspires you to create something new and amazing or just makes your life a little better.
1. “No Chewing Allowed” Chocolate Truffles
In my final hunt for Christmas gifts this year I wandered by a booth in the Union Square Holiday Market with a line 20+ deep. People were buzzing about the truffles these two guys were selling — “I heard they don’t even have a store! They just do markets!” On a whim, I decided to wait and pick up a box as a gift and they turned out to be one of the most unique + delicious sweets I’ve had in a long time. You’re not meant to chew them at all. Just er … hold it in your mouth and wait for it to dissolve. It tastes like the most delicious hot chocolate you’ve ever had. I gave one to everyone who came to our house over the holidays and everyone was blown away. You can order them from their site. We got the Original/Signature Tin but I have no reason to believe they won’t all be delicious. Order a box. Trust me.
2. Apple’s AirPods
Apple’s been in a bit of a product lull of late and when they announced that the AirPods would be delayed indefinitely without much context, potentially missing the holiday season, people started wildin’. Then one random morning I get into work and learn that Apple quietly made them available to order and they’d arrive before the holidays. What a pleasant surprise!
That unexpected delight perfectly characterizes the whole AirPods experience for me — from the magical pairing flow, to how effortless they feel to use, to the thoughtful touches that punctuate the experience (like how they’ll pause your audio when you take one out to talk to someone). While no v.1 of a product is perfect (they highlight Siri’s shortcomings, they could use some gestures for simple media controls like fwd/next and volume, they either fit your ears or they don’t, they’re pricey), the AirPods experience is one of the best new product experiences I’ve had in a while and remind us that Apple is still, in fact, quite capable of shipping products that “just work.” Now about that TouchBar...
3. The Snapchat Spectacles Launch
I can’t remember the last consumer product launch that impressed me more than what Snap pulled off with Spectacles last Fall. Snapchat has always been a product that feels light, playful and just impenetrable enough that once you (and your friends) get it, it feels like a special language/club all your own. All of those qualities have a very strong psychological impact on people’s relationship to the product/brand and the company managed to infuse it into the whole Spectacles launch.
From announcing their impending launch with a late Friday WSJ piece, to positioning the glasses as a ”toy”, to a pre-launch campaign that built excitement through mystery, to a launch that months later still maintained a feeling of pent up demand without incurring customer frustration. Heck — they even built a memorable retail experience in NYC.
Every single part of this launch (even the receipt!) was on brand: oozing with fun and whimsy — two things that feel like they’ve been missing from consumer products for a while.
Snapchat has long been doing the most innovative product work around when it comes to how we use technology to change the way people communicate. Seeing how they pulled off the Spectacles launch and their upcoming IPO, I’m eager to see where they take us next.
4. The Crown (Netflix)
I’ve never been one for period pieces so I was initially hesitant to watch this but I’m so grateful my wife convinced me to. The first season of The Crown follows the British royal family + government as Elizabeth becomes Queen. Not only is the acting, casting, music and stories top notch, but the show is uniquenly adept at weaving their narrative around historical events, many of which were new to me (like The London Fog of 1952). The whole experience was both entertaining and informative and I’m so excited that there’s talk of them doing many more seasons following the story through present day.
5. The Millennial Question
by Simon Sinek
While the segment is framed through the lens of “Millennials in the Workplace,” Sinek’s subsequent breakdown of the challenges they face are very much applicable to all of us as technology continues to play a bigger and bigger role in our lives. The clarity with which he lays out the challenges we’ve created for ourselves in various aspects of life — parenting, technology, professional environment, etc. — manages to both serve as a great reality check and be enlightening at the same time. Carve out 15 minutes and give this a focused watch.
6. Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls
I backed this Kickstarter campaign a while back and the book showed up just in time for the holidays. It’s a collection of one page stories about amazing women throughout history with wildly different backgrounds. It does a great job of mixing many of the women you’d expect to see with a lot of ones you likely would have never come across. The book also happens to be exquisitely put together and filled with beautiful portraits of the women in different artistic styles. We’ve been reading them with our 6 year old daughter and she LOVES it (and keeps counting down the pages until we get to Hillary Clinton 😢). I can’t recommend it enough to parents of both young girls and boys. You can order it here.
7. Dutch Blitz
Get ready to get fired up about a card game that the Amish love! We were introduced to this card game over the holidays and we had a blast playing it. Think of it as a simple, fast-paced version of solitaire where you’re competing against the other people you’re playing with (up to 4 with the basic set, which can be added to with an expansion set). The games are fast and fun and go great with a few friends and a few bottles of wine. You can order it here.
8. Spotify’s Data-Powered Personalized Products
Discover Weekly, Release Radar, Your Daily Mixes
Using a music service over time should make it feel more and more like its yours but music recommendation products to date have felt… not as smart as they should be. Spotify weathered the early Streaming Music Streetfight long enough to get to a place where they’re able to start doing really interesting stuff with all that data. Now consumers are starting to reap the benefits. Discover Weekly — a personalized playlist based on your previous listening habits that drops at the beginning of each week (here’s a great piece diving into how the magic works) — was their first data-powered personalized product and they followed it up with Release Radar (new releases from artists they think you like) and Radio Mix (handful of genre-based stations based on your habits that change regularly).
Week after week, I continue to be impressed with how Spotify makes it clear that all the signals they’re gathering are shaping my unique music experience — delivering reliable hits as well as exposing me to many new artists I wouldn’t have otherwise discovered. I’m not sure software will ever replace that friend you have that knows your tastes and turns you on to great stuff but we may get pretty close. This kind of personalization makes me never want to abandon the service, even in the face of the hardware ecosystem benefits of Apple Music.
🌠 I highly recommend this IFTTT recipe that automatically adds the tracks from each week’s Discover Weekly playlist to a master archive playlist that, after a few months makes for a great personalized radio station.
Wallcat is a super simple app for your Mac Menu bar made by Dustin Senos ✌️ that will give you a different, beautiful, photo for your desktop background every day. Many of us spend a lot (too much) time in front of our computers and this app provides welcome variety and inspiration every day. You can download it here.
10. NPR One App
I only discovered this one towards the end of the year and it immediately jumped to a daily behavior/home screen status for me. You set it up with your local NPR station and as you listen to stories, you can indicate the ones you find interesting to help train future story prompts. Every morning on the walk to the train (or anytime I’ve been offline for a while) I fire it up and run through the top national and local news and usually an extra story or two. At a time where the daily inundation of stories is overwhelming (particularly around politics), this app + routine has turned out to be a much calmer way to stay informed and I haven’t even started to dip into all the NPR podcast functionality built in. Also, there are a lot nice experience design touches (like nicely done audio EDU as you explore new features). NPR One is available as an app as well as on the web.
This was a really fun exercise to go through and hope if you’ve read this far you found at least one thing you might not have known about that brings you joy. Would love to hear any feedback on any of these if you try them.
Looking ahead to 2017, I’m going to do a better job of keeping track of as they happen so the list should be even better next year!
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Big thanks to Mike Singleton for having a looky-loo before I published.