Power Rangers and Product Design

Twenty years ago, “Mighty Morphin Power Rangers” hit the air. Like me, you’re probably feeling old now – sorry about that. 

As I’m sure we all remember, the show led to a wildly successful franchise. There were books, Halloween costumes, video games, spin off shows, and even a movie. We all loved those teenagers-turned-superheroes, and the show’s enduring popularity has some takeaway lessons for those of us who are building products.

You see, I’ve got a theory about this popular kids’ show that directly applies to products. Bear with me for a minute.

There’s a certain reason why kids – as in, all of us circa two decades ago – loved the Power Rangers so much. The general plotline was something that resonated with youth: A timeless story of good people working to overcome evil. It’s the same reason children are drawn to classic fables and Disney movies: there’s a story that teaches you some basic stuff about life, growing up, and the difference between right and wrong. Essentially, it’s fulfilling a basic desire for most kids – learning about the world.

But Power Rangers didn’t stop there. Oh no. The show added another spin – the characters morphed! They had Zords that would assemble into a bigger Zord! And our minds were collectively blown back in 1993.

Now, you don’t need morphing to meet kids’ desire for a plotline about good versus evil, but it’s a pretty sweet added bonus, and it made the show a heck of a lot more unique and eye-catching.

See where I’m going with this?

Product design is kind of like that. You’re designing something to meet a basic desire. But if you want a product that gets popular, you’ve got to give it that little something extra that stands out. It’s something I see all the time when I am helping local startups and entrepreneurs. They have a product that solves a basic need (which is great); but there is nothing that makes it stand out from the rest. People and execution is key, but there has to be some spin on it that attracts users. Instagram with photos, Twitter with social, and Foursquare with maps are all key examples.

Take BBM and WhatsApp, for example. BBM initially took off because it was addictive to see when a friend read your message. This wasn’t commonplace on a smartphone back then. But why did WhatsApp unseat BBM as the most used message app? It took the basic concept of read receipts that BBM championed, but opened it up to every other platform under the sun. A simple spin, but one that worked.

Next time you’re designing a product, keep the Power Rangers in mind. There are plenty of needs out there to solve, like the fact that people hate sifting through emails or that they want a better way to organize their files online. But simply solving those won’t be enough to get your product noticed. It’s got to morph into something a little bit more.

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