Endless volumes have been written on the importance of design, and case studies of good design are plentiful. We can all see what separates the iconic Google Search bar from the many, many other search bars out there. We can all appreciate how products like the iPhone and Nest Thermostat have become experiences unto themselves.
But how does one take a product - any product - and turn it into an experience? As a video editor, I often find myself marvelling at how Adobe has taken a fairly simple editing program like Premiere and turned it into an experience that is much more intuitive, and dare I say it, fun.
So when my old suitcase finally bit the dust, I knew I wanted an experience, not just a product. I wanted something that would make packing for my next trip a joy, not a chore. I wanted something that would make me want to take more trips, not fewer.
As a fan of Japanese culture, I was drawn to the concept of "mono no aware," which translates to "the profound appreciation of the beauty of fleeting moments." This led me to Monos, a luggage company that takes its name from this concept. The insights into design that I gained from my experience with Monos has led me to believe that there are three primary elements to turning a product into an experience.
Let us venture forth and explore each of these elements.
This is the one element that separates great design from good design; it's what makes the Google Search bar so much better than every other search bar out there. The design must be simple, elegant, and intuitive. If the design does not speak for itself, then it will likely confuse or frustrate users.
Steve Jobs' famous quote: "Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works," applies here. The design of a product should be so intuitive that users know how to use it without having to think about it. When Jobs introduced the first iPhone, he said that it was "reinventing the phone." And he was right; the iPhone was so much easier to use than any other phone on the market that it felt like a completely new category of product.
"Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works"- Steve Jobs
Physical products, too, should be designed so that they are easy to use. I recall that a few years, I bought a "smart suitcase" that was more trouble than it was worth; the non-removable battery meant that I couldn't use it on flights, and the lack of thoughtful wheel design made it difficult to maneuver.
I used it for domestic travel, until both the battery and my frustration finally gave out. Monos' claim to fame is its "less is more" design philosophy, and it shows in the products. There are no gimmicks or unnecessary features; everything has a purpose.
While the physical design of a product should be elegant and easy to use, it should also be built to last. I don't want to have to replace my suitcase every year; I want something that will last for years, if not decades. The materials used should be high quality, and the construction should be solid.
This insight may seem inapplicable to the digital world, but I believe it is just as relevant, if not more so. Consider, again, the search bar. The Google Search bar has been basically the same for over a decade; it is an ever-present part of our lives, and we use it multiple times per day without giving it a second thought. The search bar has become timeless because it is so simple and easy to use.
In contrast, the design of many digital products is constantly changing in a never-ending quest for "innovation." We've all been through the frustration of trying to use a new version of a program or app only to find that it is more difficult than the old version. This quest for innovation often results in products that are less intuitive and more frustrating to use.
It is important to strike a balance between innovation and simplicity. Too much innovation can lead to a product that is difficult to use; too little innovation can result in a product that feels stale. The goal should be to create a product that is both easy to use and provides a new or unique experience.
A great product is more than just a physical or digital object; it is also the result of a close collaboration between the company and its customers. The best products are those that are designed with the customer in mind.
Monos is a great example of this collaboration. The company's Ambassador program, points system, and referral program are all ways of involving customers in the product development process. Customers are encouraged to provide feedback and suggestions, which helps Monos to improve its products. In return, customers are rewarded with discounts.
This collaboration is just as important in the digital world. Many companies collect data from their customers, but few actually use this data to improve the customer experience. The best companies use data to personalize the user experience and make recommendations that are relevant to the individual user.
While so-called "big data" has been hyped in recent years, "little data" - the 1:1 interactions, feedback, and suggestions that come from close collaboration with customers - is just as important. The best companies use both big data and little data to create products that are tailored to the needs of their customers.
Ultimately, my search for a suitcase led me down a rabbit hole of product design. Whether you're a physical or digital product person, the same principles apply: the design must speak for itself, the product should be built to last, and the customer should feel like a valuable part of the process. These are the ingredients that are necessary to turn a product into an experience.