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  • Writer's pictureBoaz Rossano

UX Tip #2: Where was Steve Jobs wrong? UX and the emotional side of products

Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson

“Most people make the mistake of thinking design is what it looks like. People think it's this veneer — that the designers are handed this box and told, 'Make it look good!' That's not what we think design is. It's not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.”

Ask yourself what’s wrong with that Steve Jobs’ famous quote from 2003?

Those who read Steve Jobs biography by Walter Isaacson, noticed that Steve considered himself an engineer, and he looked and analyzed products’ design from an engineer’s point of view, seeing beyond the look and the physical ingredients of the products he created, to the to their core features and their function in his customers’ lives.

So, his view of product design was something like that:

  1. Physical ingredients (What is it made of?)

  2. Function (how it works?)

  3. Form (how it looks & feels?)

This is a good way to analyze products, and compare between them, and I personally use it sometimes as well:

  1. When I compare simple commodities, I stick to the first level, of what is it made from. E.g. Plain printer paper is differentiated by physical features, like its ingredient, color, size, weight, price, etc.

  2. When I buy a printer, however, I look closer on how it works (beyond its features, e.g. the number of pages per minute). I look into how complicated is it to print with it, how complex is its user interface, how much effort is it to get a stuck paper out, etc.

  3. When I buy a table, I also think of how it looks & feels, is it smooth & comfortable, how it blends with my other furniture, does it match the overall style and colors of my home or office, etc.

However, when I buy complex products, like a mobile phone, a car, etc., it goes beyond those aspects.

I look also at meta-physics:

  1. Emotional attachment (How it makes me feel? Is it part of my behavioral patterns?)

  2. Social status (How do others see me when I’ve got it?)

  3. Positioning (Do I think of it when I have the need? Can I depend on it then?)

  4. Branding (Do I believe in what this brand stands for? Can I trust this brand in a few years from now?)

Do we need all of this emotional stuff in product’s UX?

Yes we do! They worth a lot, as some of these emotional features are simply priceless (are very hard to create, and even harder to copy, as they need to be aligned with the DNA of the product and company, otherwise they seem detached, thus do not create the necessary trust needed for purchase).

Let me give one easy example (that I usually use with my students), to explain the value of one of them – Branding:

Think about buying a new pair of Jeans: Buying a Levi’s compared to a non-brand could sometimes mean x5 the price.

It’s basically the same material, and the shapes are almost identical (sometimes even a copy), so why pay more?

Well, our belief that the brand means something, and that we are willing to pay that extra is the brand value.

So when we talk about investing in branding over time, like Coca Cola and Levi’s did over more than a century, we understand that there is a significant return on that investment.

And branding is only one of these emotional aspects that I described earlier (and I’ll try touching on further in my next posts).

Imagine using all of them together, like the giants do (Apple, Nike, etc.) – beyond their money, media appeal and success, they have such a great brand as a starting point for any product they launch, that even their ‘loses’ (e.g. iWatch, which has already sold over 25M units…) would look like a dreamy ‘win’ in a small startup’s eyes…

To sum up: Being a UX designer, it is your job to also consider the emotional impact and the residue your product leaves on your users’ minds for the short & the long term, and to use those tools thoughtfully to make your product awesome.

Consider it also as a ‘barrier for entry’ to your upcoming product’s competitors, and as a ‘foot in the door’ for your company to market its next product or feature.

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