TL;DR: Compromise

In our life, we come across a lot of products that suck. As a designer of digital products, I see a lot of products so that I can make better products. I play with a lot of mobile apps and web sites so that I can see what works and what doesn’t. The products I make, some are okay but many suck.

One of the major reasons that products suck is that the makers of the product compromise. We don’t set out to make suckey products, but we make little compromises, here and there. And they add up. Eventually the sum those compromises affect the overall impression of the product. There are many forces at play. Over on the business side you have people who want to launch by a certain deadline, so they compromise on time. There may not be enough money so we compromise on quality. A designer might come up with a feature that is a little too hard for an engineer to implement so that gets compromised. Heck even the designs might be compromised because one way is easier to do than the other.

When we lose focus on why we built the product in the first place – which is to make it easier for the user or customer to solve their problem and turn it around and make it easier for us to make, design, engineer, launch or whatever, we inevitably make a subpar product.

When I think of products that have few compromises, I think of the thin Motorola Razr, the Macbook Air, and the old Palm Pilot for those of you who still remember. I’m sure the engineers bitched and moaned when they saw what they had to work with. I’m sure some even said it was impossible. But if the decision makers had budged and placated the engineers, I’m sure we would have had a much thicker Razr with more moving parts.

When I look underneath other laptops, I see a bunch of panels and screws and all sorts of stickers. When I look at the bottom of the Macbook Air it’s one smooth piece with no extraneous panels. The whole laptop was engineered to be one unit as opposed to a Frankenstein of OEM parts clobbered together.

When the Palm Pilot was designed, Jeff Hawkins would walk around with a block of wood the size of the Palm Pilot. If someone had a feature that required hardware that would make it bulkier, they found a way around it. They weren’t going to compromise on the portability of the device because otherwise people wouldn’t carry it around in their pocket much less use it.

Customers may not notice a compromise here and there, but combined together, they create a slightly worse experience that they do notice. Be mindful of what you compromise.

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