What is a Product, Anyway? Part One

What do we mean when we talk about product design?

In Fast Company‘s: Invincible Apple: 10 Lessons From the Coolest Company Anywhere.  There’s a lot of speculation on why Apple does so well with it’s products.  It’s worth reading the whole thing.

Author Farhad Manjoo even mentions:

Steve Jobs has often cited this quote from Henry Ford: “If I’d have asked customers what they wanted, they would have told me, ‘A faster horse!’

Quoting Defending the meaning in a way I agree with:

“The whole approach of the company is that people can’t really envision what they want,” says Reid (an apple engineer.) “They’ll tell you a bunch of stuff they want. Then if you build it, it turns out that’s not right. It’s hard to visualize things that don’t exist.”

It’s a great point, and it’s what designers train to do.  We take a problem, a need a desire for a particular experience and use our tools, skills and creativity to come up with a new way to satisfy that itch.

It’s more than that.  Apple has done all of the things in the article, but it’s done more than that.

They’ve taken the product outside its own boundaries in a way few companies do.  They get that products are a tool to help create experiences–and that’s what they design toward.  The product is bigger than the artifact the we commonly refer to as the product.

The iPod is more than an MP3 player and the iPhone is more than a phone and the iPad is more than a tablet.  They are ‘experience enablers.’  All products are.  Apple just happens to do it really well.  They don’t talk a lot about this kind of thinking, but it’s clearly there.

Apple considered way more than the technology and components that went into them.  Much more than the look and feel.  Everything about it is Apple solid.  Every part of the experience from the marketing, to going into an Apple Store, to opening the box–every part of the experience is well thought out.   Even when it doesn’t work the way it should or something is difficult, the genius bar is there for you.

If you’re listening to music and you want more, wouldn’t it be great to grab it out of the air?  Wouldn’t it be fantastic to be able to organize all of your music in a way that was accessible, fast and kind of fun?  How about TV, movies and books, too?

It even spawned a new medium, the podcast.

More than a thing, it’s also the support structure around a product.

That’s what I’d like to explore in this series of posts.  What is a product, really?  When we say product here at SOD, we really mean the ‘product universal’ for lack of a real term that encompasses what we mean.

That is, the product, how it’s made, what it’s made of, how it’s sold, how it’s packaged, how it’s supported and a whole host of other opportunities a company has to provide value to it’s customers.  That’s what we mean by product, and what I’ll attempt to explore in these posts.

Update: When we talk about a ‘product’ we really mean a product or a service–an opportunity to create value for a customer.  The next few posts will start to break that opportunity to create value into several discrete opportunities to create value.

One thought on “What is a Product, Anyway? Part One

  1. Pingback: What is a product, anayway? Part 2 « story of design

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