Webstock, a two-day show finishing tomorrow. The Webstock organizers managed to secure some great talent from the other side of the world - including Joel Spolsky, Doug Bowman, Dori Smith, Kelly Goto and others. I'm particularly looking forward to tomorrow's sessions, featuring separate presentations by Ben Goodger (who works for Google and is lead engineer on Firefox) and Tony Chor (Group Program Manager of Microsoft's Internet Explorer team). Talk about two sides of the coin - Microsoft v Google, open source v proprietary, browser innovation v browser market leader.Today I had the pleasure of attending a web conference in my own hometown, Wellington. The conference is the fantastically named
Fly My Pretties CD/DVD (an essential collection of New Zealand pop/alt music and multimedia, if you're interested!). Other highlights from today included an intro video message delivered by Tim Berners-Lee (looking very Max Headroom-ish I must say), free coffees thanks to the good folk at Provoke (visitors, ask for a "flat white"), some nice Microsoft shwag, the Freedom Is exhibit, and a song performed by 'Bob' - a web-themed version of Bob Dylan's The Times They Are A Changin' (yes, Web 2.0 was in the lyrics!).Today's most enjoyable presentation for me was Joel Spolsky's on the topic of Blue Chip Products. Before I get into that, let me set the scene with a few quick comments about Webstock itself. The setting of Wellington Town Hall is gorgeous and the black/dark red design theme is distinctively kiwi - reminiscent of the
Blue Chip Products
But onto the business of this post, Spolsky's presentation was entitled Blue Chip Products. He is a funny man and his talk came across as very witty, especially the spoof on upgrading Microsoft Windows. Essentially the topic of his talk was that great products go well beyond usability - there's an ineffable X-factor quality to them. The main example he used was the Apple iPod, which is a great product - whereas the "Creative blahbla" (a competitor) is merely a good product, despite being more usable and having better features. The iPod is blue chip, whereas the Creative products are "off brand".
Spolsky's presentation was actually an extension of a draft article on his website entitled What Makes It Great? (First Draft). As in that article, he used the Brad Pitt example. In the presentation he compared Pitt's blue chip qualities to an equally handsome - but far less famous - actor named Ian Somerhalder. The iPod vs Creative contrast personified.
So why is Blue Chip Design relevant to Read/WriteWeb? Well in my current focus on Web 2.0 market segments and products, one of the things I'm looking for is why certain products become best-in-breed. Spolsky noted in his article:
"How do you get to be #1? That's the mystery here. And since certain markets (graphical operating systems, online auctions, and apparently MP3 players) seem to be winner-take-all markets, being #2 or #3 may not be good enough.
Herman Miller Aeron ChairSo this is what I'm talking about when I say "Great Design." It's that ineffable quality that certain incredibly successful products have that makes people fall in love with them despite their flaws. It's extremely hard to pull off."
In his Webstock presentation, Spolsky produced "The Formula" for great products:
- Make people happy -- i.e. put people/users in control of a product
- Think about emotions -- very funny example of cupholders in SVWs (too hard to explain, but wait for the webcast/podcast!)
- Obsess over aesthetics -- Joel used the example of the iPod's "style over comfort"; for example you can't change the battery in an iPod, so it fails miserably in usability there. Joel called this the "French idea of fashion" and wondered if Steve Jobs is actually French.
In summary, Spolsky thinks "the world is monumentally superficial", which is reflected as much in Web products as in Hollywood celebrities. He said that if products are usable/useful and reveal true functionality, then they are "honest". However in web design and products we're not yet at that point.
NB: Big thanks to Idealog Magazine, for my press pass into Webstock. I'll be doing a write-up for them too.