Product Design, User Experience and Advertising

Quality of a product, service or pretty much everything in life is an illusive concept that is hard to put a finger on. The recipe seems clear – use state-of-the-art components, follow the latest consumer trends, apply successful business practices, and you are guaranteed to produce a hit. Yet we have seen time and again that a great product is much more than just a sum of its parts.

The music scene is the first example that comes to mind. The bowels of CD stores are filled with tedious junk recorded on the finest Digital Audio Workstations with expensive synthesizers by producers packing every catchy hook to their soulless tapes. At the same time many of the greatest songs were written with nothing more than a simple mic and an acoustic guitar. Clearly the most advanced technology does not guarantee that a song will touch people’s hearts. On the contrary, many albums suffer from over-production that makes them sound sterile and toothless.

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The smartphone industry is another good example. Despite rising competition Apple continues to command higher prices for its iPhones than any other manufacturer. Many phones on the market are more advanced and boast better specifications. Samsung offers larger screens, Motorola cameras produce crisper images, Sony excels at audio quality while LG amazes with its curved design. So how does Apple maintain its premium factor? I got my answer after I recently switched from iPhone to an Android device. The screen is indeed great, the camera is sharp and the sound is loud and clear. Yet something is missing, something that I can only describe as the user experience. Instead of packing the latest specs into its devices Apple focuses on tailoring every component into a seamless ecosystem. This gives Apple products their fluid feel that gets technology out of your way.

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And how did Facebook become the most popular website in the world? When Mark Zuckerberg released the first version of his social network its design was ascetic in comparison with MySpace, did not have as many features as Friendster and was limited only to Harvard students. Yet in a few years Facebook swept across the world, putting its competitors out of business and changing the way people communicate with each other. It was actually its simplicity and reliability that convinced people to trust Facebook with their personal profiles. While other services were bloated with features, Zuckerberg focused on a few things people wanted to use while keeping the interface clean and infrastructure stable. In the end great user experience proved to be more attractive than the sum of features on other social sites.

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I am writing this article while slowly sipping my morning espresso. In the past I was able to sample some of the best blends of coffee in Spain, Italy and France, and my Starbucks cup today does not offer quite the same taste palette. Yet it is 8am and every other cafe around is still closed. The coffee shop I visited yesterday to read my emails lacked Wi-Fi. The soundtrack in Starbucks is infinitely more pleasant than the radio junk around the corner and inside the decor looks nice. Starbucks kills it with a unique blend of superb interior design, great music and distribution. The experience of being in its cafes is beyond just espressos and lattes.

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The city-state of Singapore is one of the most livable countries in the world. It offers unparalleled quality of life as well as opportunities for personal and professional growth. Yet Singapore rarely takes the top spot in any single “livability” category. European Nordics boast the highest GDPs per capita. Hong Kong is at a close proximity to the rising China, wealthy Japan and innovative Korea. Tokyo and Paris offer exquisite culinary experiences. LA and San Francisco attract with their sophisticated movie, music and theater scenes. Endless stretches of sea and sand in the Gold Coast nurture the mind and the soul. Yet thousands of immigrants land at Singapore shores every year searching for a new home. The small red dot used the few advantages it had – its position on the intersection of trade routes and the cosmopolitan mix of people, languages and cultures, to which it added possibly the best infrastructure in the world to build the city that just works. The experience of living in Singapore is not unlike using Apple devices – it is seamless, built around people and, like every great ecosystem, is more than just a sum of its parts.

 © Vladyslav Koshelyev © Vladyslav Koshelyev

I am a life long marketeer, and I can’t help but to draw parallels between product design and advertising. I often hear that programmatic platforms will soon put sales and creative people out of work and leave it to a few engineers to run the entire industry. On the surface it is hard to argue with this forecast – programmatic solutions are cheaper, better targeted and offer access to more sources of inventory. Yet the most active proponents of these technologies such as Google also keep some of the largest sales forces in the industry. They understand that an ever increasing focus on technical aspects of advertising and eliminating the human touch is a race to the bottom that sucks all life out of the modern marketing. Just like it takes more than just technology to produce great music, phones, websites, cafes and cities, a good advertising campaign is more than just a perfectly targeted and efficiently delivered “call-to-action”. And while we are striving to “eliminate waste” we should ask ourselves if the proverbial half of advertising cost is indeed wasted or if it is indispensable for a campaign with a truly broad appeal that produces an iconic brand. Like every quality product, advertising is more than just a sum of its parts.


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