Good Ideas Make Good Products - InformationWeek
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8/26/2010
10:14 PM
Dave Methvin
Dave Methvin
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Good Ideas Make Good Products

In a recent blog entry, Om Malik argues that Apple's success comes from the fact that it doesn't target markets, but instead makes products with people in mind. I don't think it's the targeting that makes the products successful, but the ideas they embody and the insight of the people who built them.

In a recent blog entry, Om Malik argues that Apple's success comes from the fact that it doesn't target markets, but instead makes products with people in mind. I don't think it's the targeting that makes the products successful, but the ideas they embody and the insight of the people who built them.No argument, there are differences in the way products are designed and targeted. Consumer-oriented companies aim for the heart, but enterprise-oriented companies aim for the head. Ads for consumer products talk about how good they make you feel, how much better they can make your life, how fun they are to use. Enterprise products boast how they can increase productivity, reduce risk or improve revenue. Compare an Apple ad to an IBM ad and that's pretty clear. Then there are products like Microsoft Windows that try to serve both markets, and often can't advertise effectively as a result.

It's interesting that Malik chose several open-source products as his examples of products that target people. One common phrase in the open-source world is "scratching your own itch." Why do these products succeed? Perhaps because they are built by developers who understand the problems they are trying to solve. To quote Dave Thomas of Pragmatic Programmers:

As the designer or developer of a new application, you're faced with hundreds of micro-decisions each and every day ... How do we make these decisions? If it's something we recognize as being important, we might ask. The rest, we guess. And all that guessing builds up a kind of debt in our applications - an interconnected web of assumptions. As a developer, I hate this. The knowledge of all these small-scale timebombs in the applications I write adds to my stress. Open Source developers, scratching their own itches, don't suffer this. Because they are their own users, they know the correct answers to 90% of the decisions they have to make.

Too many products are built by developers and designers who have never been near -- much less in -- the shoes of the people who are supposed to use the product. Instead, the product research group goes out and holds focus groups, or the company surveys the users of competitor's products to see how they can make some minor change to use as a selling point. Then this information is filtered through several other groups and fed to the developers who don't quite understand what is being asked for but try to build it anyway, often given ridiculous time or budget constraints. And the result is junk.

Great products are built by developers who understand what the users of their products are trying to do. When the users get their hands on it, they say, "these guys get it!" The success comes not because the product is targeting that market, but because it was built by someone from that market with a perspective that lets them clearly see what needs to be done.

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