This Vrbo commercial just made me cry.
This is the canoe that a young couple will get gloriously lost in together.
This is the checkers game where grandson and granddad will bond.
These are the woods where a daughter will tell her mother she’s nervous about starting a new school.
This is the pool where cannonball records will be broken.
This is where new parents will remember life before they became new parents.
And this is the kitchen where the new boyfriend will unofficially become family.
Vrbo reminds us that it’s never about the product, and it’s always about the market. Product design is a means to an end — to stir emotion and positive behavioral change in your market. And you can’t design a product that meets this end if you don’t give a shit about people’s emotions and everyday behavior. So enough with the fetishization of “product design” as an end in and of itself. Consumers do not sit at home and masturbate to clean user interfaces, one-click payments or any other cool feature that you might dream up for your product. Rather, consumers respond when their ontological needs are being fulfilled. When they feel something, when they’re given meaning, purpose, community, identity and more. And yes, having an elegantly designed product helps to accomplish this. But always keep your ultimate intent in mind. Remember that true focus is the combination of attention and intention.
All behavior is art. Observe it closely enough and you’ll see. Parents curiously hovering over their yawning baby; Teenagers leaning in for a clumsy first kiss.
That painting you saw at the MET last week was not art. The feelings it surfaced to your mind as you viewed it, the subtle change in behavior it inspired days later while you were at work — that’s the art.
In the same way, the value of Snapchat doesn’t come from its user interface, and the value of an iPhone doesn’t come from its precise metallic curves. Again, these are just means to an end, and that end is human emotion. Neurons firing, serotonin flowing, consciousness buzzing.
But oh, didn’t Steve Jobs care so much about the mac that he wanted even its internal circuit board to be beautifully designed?
Yeah, and? The reason people care that the internal circuit boards are beautifully designed is because that story, and stories of Job’s general fanaticism, made their way into Apple folklore. Now everyone knows that the founder of Apple was obsessed with quality. And there’s the rub. The idea of quality is what you appreciate. How often do you actually admire the detailed and exact craftsmanship of your iPhone? Sure, the user interface is simple and easy to use, and there are a host of other reasons why the iPhone is an excellent product. But there’s something bigger going on. It’s not just the literal “quality” or “simplicity” of your Apple products that you love.
No, you love the almost mythical story of Steve Jobs stomping his feet and demanding that the iPhone be absolutely perfect. It is Apple’s pursuit of perfection that you treasure. It’s the sort of heroic story that could arouse even the most stoic luddite.
Apple doesn’t just ship quality products. It lives and breathes the very idea of quality in everything it does. Because of that, our relationship with Apple products is unique. We see them as sacred jewels meant to be protected, looked after and loved. Your iPad may have been almost the same price as the 4K Smart TV in your bedroom. Yet you obsessively clean and polish your iPad while you probably wouldn’t care if the TV got dirty, dusty, wet or dented. This is what Microsoft can’t comprehend when it releases an advertisement that compares the Surface Pro to the MacBook by metrics like power, size or price. As if this decision was about logic and numbers for most people.
The quality of the product matters, but only as a means of generating human behavior and emotion. To just build a great product is not the true destination. That said, whatever you create doesn’t need to inspire millions. It is enough for only your heart to stir. But don’t just aim for a sleek user interface or an eye-catching logo. Turn and face the stars. Create something that inspires love, passion, anger, confusion, even if in just yourself. Create something that is a cause for the behavioral change you want to see in this world, even if in just yourself.
800 years ago, the poet Rumi taught us that
“If you reach for a star
You are a star
If you try to make a living
You are merely bread
Try to get this secret message
As your last
You are what you seek
In your future
And the past”
As for me, I want to seek something great, something that teeters on the border of both reality and fantasy.