What Makes a Product Great?

Differentiating Between Good and Great Product Design

Photo of someone holding an iPhone against a neon background, taken by Daniel Korpai on Unsplash.
Image by Daniel Korpai on Unsplash

Products are objects, systems, goods, and services that consumers use. Products are all around us: our versatile coffee machine that delivers us our daily caffeine fix before a long day, the mug we use as a vessel for that ritualistic morning brew, our car navigation system that gets us from Point A to Point B, the messaging apps we use to keep in touch with friends and family, the social networks we flock to either for distraction or inspiration, and the dating apps that most typically bring us disappointment (although seldom to the fault of the actual product itself).

So, if products are an inevitable and integral component of our daily lives, why is it that we hardly even think of them, much less recognize them as such? It is precisely this invisibility that differentiates a good product from a great one.

Products as an Extension of Ourselves

Whether we realize it or not, great products are not merely supplements to our lives, providing added value to them by solving specific problems, but are solidifying themselves more each day as extensions of our very being, with the user often not being able to separate themselves from the products they use incessantly.

Put quite simply, when a product is designed exceptionally, we cannot imagine living without it. This goes beyond simply providing a solution to a problem the user faces; When MapQuest, the first consumer-focused interactive mapping site on the internet launched in 1996, it brought tremendous value to the consumer, empowering them to travel to distant, unknown locations with ease and independence. But MapQuest, although a pioneer in navigation technology at the time, had its limitations: it was a web-based service that relied on either a photographic memory or a printing device to make a significant impact in one’s life.

With the onset of mobile mapping applications, such as Apple Maps, Google Maps, and Waze in the early 2000s, these barriers were eradicated, and a new phenomenon emerged: a consumer base who simply cannot imagine themselves going through the motions of daily life without such applications, turning to them subconsciously, and relying on them to navigate even to locations they know well — “just in case.”

Image by Henry Perks on Unsplash

Products I Can’t Live Without (Even Though I Wish I Could)

Like most of us, I am (somewhat) addicted to at least one social media network. Between the top two culprits, Instagram is my preferred drug of choice, taking up an undoubtedly shameless amount of time of my day, if only I had the humility to actually look up my logged screen time on the app.

The app’s design feels seamless, with every action icon positioned intuitively, and gestures such as double tapping to like or swiping left or right to toggle between screens feeling like second nature. Its features rapidly evolve with the nature of the product itself and its users’ behaviors — the “remove follower” option as a softer alternative to blocking a profile and “mute account” as a sort of incognito quasi-unfriending, for example, are two psycho-behavioral nuances in social media that were sorely needed, not openly vocalized, and an attention to detail that makes me impartial to this product in particular.

My daily journey with Instagram starts exactly how it began when I first downloaded it: I’m a little bored, a little curious, and am hoping to just look at something pretty or interesting for a while. But then, thanks to its highly intelligent algorithm, my mission on the app toggles to functional: I find new workout tutorials to incorporate into my routine, creative cooking recipes to challenge myself with, and snippets of micro-poetry, art, and design to keep me inspired, all of which I can save into distinct folders, that have become a sort of digital representation of the compartmentalizations in my brain: “Cute Dogs,” “SNAX4LIFE,” “#Fitness,” “UX Inspo,” “Art + Tattoos + Quotes.” Yep, that about sums it up.

What Attracts Me to Product Design

I’m ceaselessly fascinated with the innovation and value added new technologies in products tend to bring. Through user observation, research, testing, and experimentation, (great) Product Designers can identify and solve problems the user isn’t even aware they have yet, or, within a larger problem they’ve already solved, pinpoint a smaller, more nuanced problem, and solve that. I’ve seen great product design keep my immigrant family in touch across continents, facilitate the lives of my aging parents with the ease of a button, and bring welcomed joy and distraction to my peers and I when we’ve needed it most.

That magical “Aha!” moment of suddenly introducing more efficiency, ease, or simple delight into your life you either never knew you needed or never imagined you’d be able to attain is what keeps me hooked on great product design, and inspired to be a valuable contributor in the field myself.

Aspiring Product Designer based in NYC — www.amylima.design