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3 Feb

Tear hell for leather

My grandmother would use mortar and pestle to make chutneys. She used the pestle to decide how fine or coarse to make the paste. It was a laborious, time-consuming task.

Thankfully, we now have mixer grinders. I am sure some of us still romanticise the taste of pastes ground in a mortar and pestle, but if I have to be honest, mixer grinders are quite magical. With a few modes or flask blades you can make a paste as finely or as coarsely ground as you’d like. In fact, new flask blades are so powerful and specific, buttons to change grinding modes have disappeared.

I press a button and I get the result. No reading lengthy manuals or going through huge learning curves.

The mode buttons on a mixer or the improved flask blades are features that made an already easy task of grinding stuff even easier and more refined.

On a digital product, I can think of intuitive gestures as achieving the same effect. And sometimes, these gestures can define an entire category of products and give rise to novel user behaviour. Think of the gestures Apple got the world used to with the first iPhone or what Tinder swiping did for the dating app market.

I think the creation of new behaviour patterns applies to designing any disruptive product. A product that cracks the appropriate feature-behaviour mix significantly improves the customer’s life and makes their job-to-be-done all that more efficient and easy. Such a business enjoys quicker adoption of its product regardless of the lay consumers' familiarity with the new behavioral patterns it introduces.  

You can say that such a business creates magic for its users.

Because think about it:

When do we say something is magical?

We say something is magical when a seemingly impossible task feels easy and gets done with little to no effort.

Take the much-discussed case of Unified Payments Interface (UPI).

Using a simple QR code scanner, or phone number we’ve replaced the concept of physical cash to a great extent. Carrying cash may not be hard or impossible but the act of transferring money digitally this easily, at one point of time, would've been considered no less than magic; almost science-fictionesque.

In fact, science fiction has inspired a lot of magic we call technology today.

For example, drones. A 1965 novel, Dune, by Frank Herbert first envisioned a tiny “hunter seeker” assassin drone. We now have drone-led delivery services, drone photography, and drones used for research and surveillance. Or the 3D gesture-based user interface used by Tom Cruise’s character in Minority Report (2002), which is found today on most touch screens.

Science fiction imagines a radical, almost impossible way to ease a problem. Because it is not limited by physical reality and only imagination, it takes the first stab at imagining a magical and utopian solution to the problem; a solution that feels unachievable by contemporary standards. But while doing that, it breathes life into an idea that later nudges people to create products that turn it into reality.

Even when you first witness a magic show, you are enthralled by the performance because it makes something impossible look easy and doable. The magician breaks your mental model of the world and makes you question what's possible. You may later find out the tricks that made it seem magical but it's the initial disbelief and surprise that sticks with you and gets you hooked to magic.

One such act of magic for me is the Tinder Swipe.

Since the app's launch in 2012, swiping right and swiping left on a deck of cards to make decisions has become a widely copied, accepted, and used gesture — so much so that "swipe left on that" or "swipe right on this" have become cultural phrases.

Interestingly, here's Jonathan Badeen's (Co-founder – Tinder) reply to a question on Quora about tips for designing products that millions of people use:

"When we developed the Swipe Right, we were thinking about the quickest way for users to get from Point A to Point B (seeing their matches). I would encourage all product designers to approach their user interface from a place of making things easier and more intuitive for their users. If the design, action, and flow are all based on what will be easiest and the most natural, users will stay on the app longer and engage with it more — and more frequently. At the same time, we also have buttons so that users can choose to tap to “Like” or “Nope” a potential match. This means that there is minimal user education necessary. Gestures can be faster and more pleasurable, but we want training wheels when dealing with millions of people."

Talk about creating a cultural shift from a product gesture!

Now, imagine if Tinder had followed conventional advice and gone ahead with a rather familiar way of thinking about browsing profiles on their app.What if they created another Facebook-like feed to display profiles because users were already familiar with it? Or the "like" or "nope" buttons that Jonathan talks about?

The thing is, users don’t necessarily prefer familiarity when trying to do something.

A user is likely to be okay with a radically different way of doing something if that different way is radically easier and quicker than their current ways.

Just look at how much accounting changed when Tally was introduced or how food consumption habits changed when Zomato or Swiggy were introduced.

A user’s mental model to do anything is flexible, provided the new behaviour is easily learnable and the benefits of adopting that new behaviour far outweigh its costs. A user’s priority in most cases is to tear hell for leather (do something as soon as possible). And if you create something magical, your users will be willing to change their existing ways of being and adapt to this new paradigm.

What curiosity is to invention, ease is to adoption.

And you'd do yourself a disservice if you limit yourself to what exists today, versus thinking about what is closer to an ideal, magical state.

Simply assuming that new gestures or features involve long learning cycles and choosing to design based on familiarity may not always be the correct approach.

Think about what your product solves. Think about how you can lead users to the solution quicker. Work backwards from an ideal state.

Believe me, the lay consumer is smart enough to learn and adopt a new way to do things if they seem magical.

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