When the business model doesn’t match the user experience or… when nobody seems to understand what the business model is, the designer can’t know if they are helping or hurting the company by creating a better experience for the user.
I recently posted a quote from Steve Ballmer discussing a key difference between Apple and Microsoft, which I titled A Complete Experience. Having spent a bit more time thinking about it, I thought I would capture some of those thoughts here. This is basically a brain-dump, so it is by no means comprehensive, or for that matter a fluid discussion.
For Ballmer to claim that Microsoft is committed to choice doesn’t match their past business practices. I’d love to see them truly commit to changes that support real user choice and a better end-to-end experience. The subtle knock of Apple (a “narrow” experience) is to be expected, though again it stretches the truth.
OS X, Apple’s computer operating system is not as broad as Windows in terms of configurations and options (six versions of Vista to choose from – two for OS X, one of which is targeted for servers – no confusion there), but that’s a very good thing for the people who buy and use computers. Windows provides every possible configuration option just in case one person out of 10,000 may want it. That’s pretty cool, except for the fact that it often clutters the experience for the other 9,999 folks.
Apple has gone the other route, making a vast majority of decisions for the users – focusing on normal people instead of edge cases. Power users can dive into the command line and utilize the full power of the BSD subsystem. They both have to strike a balance, but have chosen vastly different ways to do it. I’ve come to love Apple’s way of doing it.
If the experience were truly “narrow”, you wouldn’t have the wide swath of user types – students, lawyers, parents, kids, entrepreneurs and hard core developers. That last one is important – many dedicated techies who write programs and Web applications that millions of people use day in and day out switched to the Mac. These are the people most likely to tweak their system, to be that one out of 10,000. They chose the focused end-to-end experience over the bucket of options.
The experience is so much smoother on the Mac and my levels of frustration are amazingly low when I work on my computer. Hell, frustration doesn’t tend to crop up very often. I should say that my level of contentment and the occurrences of elation are rather high compared to any other product or service that I use on a regular basis.
In the competition between PCs and Macs, we outsell Apple 30-to-1. But there is no doubt that Apple is thriving. Why? Because they are good at providing an experience that is narrow but complete, while our commitment to choice often comes with some compromises to the end-to-end experience.
The quote is from a memo that Mr. Ballmer sent to Microsoft employees this past July outlining the company’s strategy for 2009. Aside from the not-so-subtle “narrow” swipe, it’s a concise summation of why so many of us have switched to Apple products (not just the computer) after years, if not decades using PCs running Windows.
The experience matters.
The New York Times is running a great article titled Solution, or Mess? A Milk Jug for a Green Earth (thanks to Sarah Kampman for posting it to the IxDA list). In the piece, Stephanie Rosenbloom covers a major shift in the packaging of new milk jugs recently introduced to the shelves of Walmart and Sam’s Club.
Image taken from The New York Times Article
There are a couple of very interesting aspects to the story. The first is the customer response to the new design (some love it, many hate it, most seem to be unsure) and the change required in their usage (some “feel like novices at the simple task of pouring a glass of milk”). The second is the benefits delivered by the new design: increased shipping and storage efficiency, reduced cost for the manufacturer and the customer and significantly reduced environmental impact.
It is very hard to introduce changes to an existing product or service, all the more so when it is as entrenched in day-to-day life as the common milk jug. I’m really curious to see how the new packaging is received over the next year or so and how it will be tweaked to meet customer needs.
On a side note, does anyone else think the word ‘milk’ sounds weird? Say it a few times: milk milk milk. Weird.