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Strategic insights
4 Tricks to Making Great Products

Written by on January 27, 2007

How do you create great products? Those kinds of products people really like to use, that they want other people to use and that has long-term potential?

It sounds hard doesn't it? But here is secret... It is actually pretty simple. All you need to do is to focus on four different things:

1: Make people more productive

Focusing on efficiency and productivity is a very powerful method to create greatness.

You have probably tried it yourself, you have seen a cool product, downloaded it, and really liked it - for a few weeks. Then the frustration starts to kick in. The product is still cool, but it has just too many steps to make your efficient. Maybe doing a specific task means that you have to go into a menu each time - or that you often find yourself spending more time adjusting the settings than actually making stuff.

To put graphically (chart below), a cool but inefficient product has a good start, but the small annoyances quickly destroys the momentum. Not only does an inefficient product fail to create a brand feeling - you do not get much done either.

In comparison, a product that focuses on productivity often evolves at a slower pace, sometimes it does not peak as high - but, it last longer. you help create a stronger brand, a lasting experience and it never fully dies out.

Note: The theoretical market rating for the cool graph is only 42% of its full potential even with its higher peak, whereas the productivity graph has a market rating close to 80%. (to get a 100% market rating you need to create a synergy between the two).

Look at the long term benefits and focus on productivity. It often yields much higher results than looking at the short term buzz.

2: Empower people

The second strong element in creating greatness is to empower people. Empowerment means that you give a person the ability to do something that was previously hard to do or impossible.

How do you add these new abilities? Do you add them as new features? Not always. New features are sometimes useful, but the best way to empower people is to look their workflow - and change them into something that works better. Or to invent new ways of doing things.

Rewrite the rule book

3: Automate slave work

There is one thing that people hate more than anything else on the planet - to be a slave. Unfortunately our computers often forces us to do repetitive and boring task - they force us into doing slave work.

Why do I have to do this one more time?

If you want to make a great product you need to eliminate this. Respect peoples choices, eliminate repetitive tasks, learn and remember what people did in the past.

Here is one example: Imagine a product that uploads your images using 5 unique steps:

  1. The first time you will need to do all 5 steps
  2. The second time you only have to choose the file you want to upload (since 4 of the tasks was to set general settings). You have just eliminated 80% of the slave work.

Then imagine that you can automate this even further, by commanding it to upload automatically.

It doesn't take much to turn people into masters instead of slaves.

4: Make it look appealing

The last but equally important element to greatness is to make your product look appealing. It should have a sense of style.

It obviously should not look ugly, despite of what you might think of MySpace. MySpace is not successful because it lacks style - MySpace is successful despite its design. That is very big difference. In the case of MySpace, the need for individuality far outranks the need to have prefabricated design templates.

This is true for all product that displays people's life and individuality. Any element made by others will get in the way. But just imagine how much bigger MySpace could have been if they allowed people to express themselves in a better personal style (that is an empowerment factor).

On the other hand you do want to make it look too good either. Stunning graphics distracts people from doing great things and instead force them to waste time looking at your rounded edges and shiny effect.

The balance is in the middle. Not ugly, not shiny - but appealing. This way people can focus on being great.

Do not let your product take focus away from the people who use it.

Overall, creating great products means hard work. I takes time to analyze and optimize the efficiency. It takes time to fully understand people's workflows and it takes even longer time to implement the changes. But it is time well spent.

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Thomas Baekdal

Thomas Baekdal

Founder of Baekdal, author, writer, strategic consultant, and new media advocate.

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