The best product insights are the simplest. “Let’s not overcomplicate matters unnecessarily,” says Claire Foy as she plays Queen Elizabeth in The Crown. The same thinking should go into building products. Over-designed and over-engineered features lead to nowhere. People need to understand your product, be able to use it with ease, and resonate with it. That’s it. Nail the core value and do it better than everyone (or be the only one to do it) and you have something at your fingertips. If you don’t, nothing else matters.
Products should have soul. It should radiate beauty, be opinionated about what it is and what it isn’t, seek to make a genuine authentic connection tied to its values and mission, and give off respect (or care for human experience) above all. Ask: would you want to use this? Would you love to use this? Would you want the product to do this to you? Would you want others to use this? Would you be proud of making it because you believe it needs to exist in the world?
Paradigm-shifting products come from discovery via intuition. It will never appear through trend reports, focus groups, or brainstorm sessions. Creating N-to-1 type products or refining existing ones can gain value from those. But real paradigm-shifting ones that alter or create new behaviors and sometimes new markets and business models come from intuition and a strong point-of-view usually as a result of imagination and experience (or dissatisfaction from the status quo) combined with audacity. The best part is, they always seem obvious in hindsight: “Why wasn’t it like this before?”
The challenge of every product is to make it more robust and yet maintain its clarity. It’s easy to add a new feature. The question is: can you expand the ability of a product while making it easier to use? While maintaining its elegance? While not losing its soul? Same goes if/when you have to switch a product’s vision moving forward due to where the world is going. Can you maintain clarity as you navigate a new reality? This is extremely delicate and requires a ruthless approach, discipline, balance, and commitment from everyone involved in building the product.
So much of building products is about being a rigorous detective. One of the best quotes from Sherlock Holmes is: “There is nothing more deceptive than an obvious fact.” As a product builder, you will never run out of potential problems or solutions coming from all over, especially ones that seem obvious. The test is in being relentless about all assumptions and being able to scrutinize everything with healthy skepticism. So much of it is also about figuring out “when” because timing is everything and resources aren’t infinite. Having the right judgment and being able to objectively rationalize decisions is imperative and one that can’t easily be trained.
The feeling should be the starting point and the ending point. This is often the most overlooked part in building products, yet arguably has the most lasting impact1. Product builders focus on “job-to-be-done” for people to use a product and the “hook” model in order to get them to keep using it. These are valuable frameworks in understanding the psychology behind products. But there is one thing that commands loyalty beyond simple rationale or compulsion, and that is feeling. What you want someone to feel should be the starting point of the product, and the outcome of what you ship should always seek to generate the feeling you are aiming for.
All of the above must be true in order to build a product that is loved, admired, even revered. It’s hard to put a dollar amount or train this, and that is what makes building products not merely a science but an art.
Because products are never “finished,” this should give one both the hunger and humility to keep getting better. We are in the business of inventing things for people and that requires a great deal of responsibility. That we get to Build Tomorrow Today™ is precisely what makes it fun.
If you align with these beliefs, I run a product development consultancy, and am open to potential full-time opportunities where there’s a natural fit.
“Impact” can be subjective as “value” can be derived from one or a few vectors that’s unique to each company. I’d like to think about this not in terms of size (whether in users or in revenue), but rather in the overall impression of a product. “Feeling” is beyond one or two things but the aggregate of interactions. It’s the relationship a user builds with your product overtime. It’s the reputation it builds and the idea it poses when someone thinks of your product. Nailing down the feeling time and again may be our biggest challenge, and one we cannot overlook as builders.↩