Product design 101: 2012 edition

From: Stephanie Rieger

Bryan couldn’t sleep last night so he decided to play a game on the PlayStation.

He turned it on and was told it needed to update before he could proceed with his game. Fair enough I suppose. He hadn’t used it in months. So he clicked “Update”.

Several hours (and three updates later), he was finally able to play.

Let’s think about this for a moment.

Sony is a big company with lots of engineers. Surely they can devise a cleaner, less lengthy update process? Yet clearly someone decided this extra effort wasn’t worth their time.

Instead, we (the people who buy the products) get to lose a few hours negotiating their lengthy and convoluted process. Some of us may worry that maybe one of the updates has failed (…why do we need so many of them?). Some of us may even decide to restart the process, only to discover that we now have to wait even longer.

All this for a software update that we may not even need (…explain to me why I even need to update software to play a two year old game that doesn’t access an external server or API?)

And don’t try telling me it’s an “important security update” (by far the laziest and most disingenuous piece of copyrighting in the history of software).

Nothing about that message inspires trust or love for your brand:

  • either your product is actually insecure,
  • or you’ve decided it’s too complicated to explain the reason for the update in plain English,
  • or you’re scared to tell me the update is entirely due to some new partner service you’ve added that I probably won’t use,
  • or you simply don’t trust me to update unless you make it sound ominous.

What certain companies don’t seem to grasp is that today’s technology environment provides them with a unique opportunity.

Products used to be defined by their physical form. Buttons, cogs, wires and gears that you couldn’t magically replace once you discovered a better, faster or more efficient way to do things.

Today however, many products are simply defined by their software. They are also connected to the Internet. This means, almost any product can now change after it ships.

Not only can a company add new features, they can also simplify, shorten steps, clarify messages, streamline processes and update data structures.

In short, we may forgive you for releasing a product that includes the odd hoop we must jump through, but we won’t forgive you for not leveraging time, data, and technology to fix it (especially when your competition is systematically iterating to annihilate those very same hoops).

Consider yourself warned.