Good Enough Design
The value of creativity in digital product design
Good Enough Design knows a problem and solves it well, and most products stop at Good Enough Design. It checks all the boxes, it tests well, it doesn’t crash. Most of the time, good enough is enough. So, why take a product any further? What does further look like? What value could it be to go beyond the bare minimum?
The short answer is going to sound too simple. Missing from many products is any sense of a bigger opportunity to connect with people and make a product meaningful. The way people emotionally respond to the world around them is in itself a business opportunity that is often missed.
We, as designers and product folks, should be focused on speaking to users as people. That means finding ways to rationalize the irrational — the process of not just knowing how a product should work, but knowing how it should feel. More than ever, we are at a place in technology where interfaces can be utilitarian and emotionally expressive at the same time.
I looked back at major products that put emotional intelligence to use in a piece of software. What makes these products special is simple. They don’t just know what problem they are solving, they celebrate the solution. They take the basic feature of a product and push the execution to the absolute and most logical conclusion. In the process, they become more memorable than tools and much more than a well-decorated interface. They become unique and meaningful to the people that use them.
Here are some of the highlights:
The Like Button was so simple and engaging that it was relentlessly copied on other platforms. There was also a known shortcoming, though, and Reactions is an inspiring solution that amplifies what people love about the like button. Reactions created an instant and obvious way to share common, universal emotions—reminding us how Facebook has become such an important place for sharing things with the people we know.
Once upon a time, Google was just a blinking cursor in a search box. Years of incredible innovation changed Google into a vast ecosystem that people rely on for knowledge, messaging, navigation, and more. Google Dots introduced a way for Google to be personified, creating an expressive logomark that could help people understand the magical moments when Google was doing something special for them.
Noom Coach is a health & wellness application that puts an encouraging and supportive voice at the heart of its product. The product is designed to help people track their meals and reach a healthy weight. Noom puts forth a subtle, gentle, and encouraging interface that keeps its users motivated, even if they make mistakes here and there. This product could easily have copied My Fitness Pal, but Noom’s deep empathy for users shines through in its supportive, nonjudgemental, and educational approach to eating better.
The Business of Being Emotional
These examples found a groundbreaking sweet spot somewhere between the minimum viable product and most valuable product. In the right place at the right time, they put in the extra effort to polish their unique functionality in a way that helps users understand a product’s value and purpose.
Design isn’t just about problem solving, it’s also a tool for connecting with people. To do more than the minimum, designers needs to articulate the specific value a product will gain by being unique and memorable. Often, the value of an innovative and highly visible design solution will be about improving market share, engagement, or retention.
Unfortunately, this opportunity can easily go ignored in the rush to launch the absolute minimum solution, and ultimately neglected after everything goes live.
Usable But Forgettable
Products fall into the trap of being usable but completely forgettable. Acquiring new users on any platform is very costly, so there’s a lot of value in having new users remember the best parts of a product during their first try. Give them a reason to keep the product installed and open it again.
In business speak, there’s also a threat to being forgettable, since an undifferentiated product is easy for a competitor to copy and replace. Copycats have much less R&D overhead, so they just need to be cheaper or better at marketing.
Practical Starting Point
It’s easy to test a product to see if its users think it’s special and more valuable than competing products. The simplest tactic is to perform a user test where people are asked to use three products in the same session, yours and two competitors’.
The trick is to remove branding, like logos, from the interface and ask people to identify who made each product, what makes each of them special, and which of them they would be most likely to pay for.
This is a very basic framework, but it begins a conversation about the surface of a product that is completely oriented around the perception of value. Eventually, you can identify insights about a product’s place in the lives of users and bring better knowledge into the design process.
More than 1,000 new apps are submitted for review each day and most of them will be lost or forgotten. Know what product you’re making and why it’s meaningful in the lives of people. Bring a deep sense of empathy into your product to not just solve our problems, but also celebrate the ways that software can amuse our boredom, make us smile, and make us laugh. Don’t settle for the status quo and don’t stop at good enough.
In many ways, this is the most challenging theme I have focused on in my career and at our studio. Hopefully, it’s also a theme that’s inspiring for the design community as a whole.