As a software product manager you have to raise your expectations on what the application will do for the user.
A Twitter Challenge Is Laid Down
Yesterday, @seriouspony tweeted:
This is an exciting constraint to design from: if you *couldn't* rely on 'better knowledge, habits, incentives'… what COULD you use?
A conversation ensued:
@seriouspony I think that's called "reality"?
And I invoked the God of product design:
@seriouspony What did Jobs do? Been thinking about viz voicemail lately – there is NO UI involving # keys that wks as well as "name+tap"
Visual Voicemail Is A Metaphor For No Habits
Before the iPhone, voicemail was accessed by making a call, listening to a robotic voice and navigating your messages using the number keys. This required knowledge, and incentives and habits to do well.
Jobs said (in effect) “name + tap is our interface.” No learning, knowledge, or habit required. And he committed to a lot of work on the part of the Visual voicemail app to hide all that stuff on the back end so the user didn’t have to know any of it anymore.
And interestingly, partly as result of this design approach, a habit was formed – the habit of buying an iPhone and checking it all the time.
Applications Must Embed Deep Knowledge To Be Successful
The most popular part of this conversation was this thought, which you can detect in many applications that win their space:
@seriouspony successful apps embed tons of domain knowledge behind the scenes so knowledge and habits aren't required
It seemed to strike a nerve with product managers, and was favorited several times. In the Twitter conversation I mentioned Instagram, which automatically takes good (enough) pictures.
To use one of @seriouspony’s key phrases, these applications with embedded knowledge help users kick ass. Want to take some good pictures? You can take photography classes and practice a lot, OR you can use Instagram which will instantly make even non-perfect images look a lot better. No habits needed, no knowledge needed, no incentives needed.
This also echoes comments Evan Williams made recently at the XOXO conference:
“Take a human desire, preferably one that has been around for a really long time … Identify that desire and use modern technology to take out steps.”
People already wanted to share images of their lives, Instagram just made it faster and better.
It’s Not Just iPhones – Enterprise Applications Win With Knowledge
It’s not just consumer applications that do this. My old product AppManager (from NetIQ), dominated its space because it came with built-in knowledge – simple, default monitoring scripts – while its competitors typically made the customer write and configure their own scripts. And even though the users of the application for the most part could have come up with the settings themselves, the fact that the application already had a good set of defaults meant that they didn’t have to do any thinking and could rely on us to have done that thinking. That meant they could use that cognitive capacity for other, more interesting or valuable things. That meant our customers could kick more ass. And that resulted in us winning that market handily.
Don’t Be Stupid; Take The Load Off
The important thing from the product management perspective is that you have to raise your expectations on what the application is going to do for the user. To get more knowledge into the product so it’s not stupid and takes load off the user, you can’t do the simplest possible thing – you have to do the hard(er) thing.