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d.Construct 2007 Live: Peter Merholz - Experience Strategies

Matthew Pennell

September 7, 2007 at 3:45 AM

Taking the stage to the strains of a 19th-century wurlitzer, Peter Merholz contrasts the complexity of the first commercial cameras with modern experience design. Like those other ubiquitous examples of revolutionary user experience design, the iPod and the Wii, it wasn’t long before someone came along to rewrite the rules; Kodak launched their first camera with one simple instruction: “You press the button, we do the rest.”

Merholz describes product differentiation as a pyramid: simple Technology is sufficient at the birth of an industry; but pretty soon Features become your key selling point – until ‘featuritis’ sets in (cf. Word’s toolbars); and finally it is the job of Experience to distinguish your product in the market.

Developments that succeed often completely rewrite the rules – Kodak’s first camera, the Tivo, the iPhone. Thank God for the Wii, says Merholz – finally we have a new example of successful user experience design instead of the iPod (although it still creeps into one or two of his slides). Don’t play the technology and features battle.

We often build systems from the inside out — start with the data, build the logic around that, and only then consider the interface — but this new breed of products design from the outside, considering the interface first before figuring out how to make the technology serve the experience. We also have to learn to “leverage the system” — use what we know about the ecosystem in which our product exists; an iPod doesn’t do much on its own, but combined with iTunes and the online Store it becomes a compelling user experience.

And, for the customer, the experience is the only thing we are delivering, and the only thing that they care about.

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