A good product is more than functionality. It certainly has to solve a need (or "job to be done" or "product/market fit", depending on your business strategy persuasion). But a superior product will also make it easier/faster/more enjoyable than its alternatives. That's where design comes in. Not just industrial design, but the design of the entire experience, from availability to aesthetics, functionality, customer service, personality and even little surprises. It's not enough to delight your customers, your solution should embarrass your competitors, forcing them to admit you nailed it.
I'll write more on this topic in a future blog post. In the meantime, how about some solid examples of products/services that nail it? I recently got into coffee, so you may notice a heavy coffee emphasis.
First is Squarespace, where this blog is hosted. I've experimented with Wordpress, customized Drupal and coded an entire social web app from scratch. But if any person or business asked me how to get a basic-to-moderately-advanced site created, I'd point them to Squarespace and call it a day. Easy to use, beautifully designed templates and CMS, flexible, focused on service, and very reasonably priced. Why make your life more difficult than it needs to be? Just sign up already.
Are you still rocking that Microsoft travel mug you got at CES eight years ago? The one that leaks when you drive around a corner? Then let me introduce you to the Zojirushi stainless steel mug. This thing will keep your coffee lip-scorching hot for over six hours and stays securely sealed even if you take that turn a little too fast and end up with the wheels facing the sky. The finishes are attractive and you'll look like a grownup carrying it into the office instead of that chrome sippy-cup you've been rocking. And for only 30 bucks? No brainer.
To my non-surprise, I've found a super-geeky culture around coffee, just like exists in computers, phones, apps, cars, boats and probably even tulips. Any time you have a category with more than one large player, you get strongly held opinions. Think Ford/Chevy, Mac/PC and iPhone/Android and how dangerous it is to wade into the opposing camp's forums and mention an alternative. So it is with coffee. "Pour-over delivers the best coffee." "No, French press, you idiot." "You're both neanderthals. Aeropress is the wave of the future." And so it goes. I experimented and decided it all took too much work but I want to enjoy coffee produced with more nuance than my ability to discern, so I went with the Technivorm Moccamaster. Sure, it costs $300, but I'll use the clichéd analogy: If you typically buy a cup of Starbucks every day, the payback period for the Technivorm is less than four months. And you get consistently great coffee out of a stylish, bombproof maker.
At the other end of the price spectrum is the Sound pOp bluetooth speaker from AudioSource. I've been looking for a bluetooth speaker for the shower for a while and coincidentally got one of these as a Christmas stocking stuffer. It's odd looking, has a silly name, is underpowered vs. most competitors and will never be accused of B&O-levels of audio fidelity. But it fits my needs well. It pairs quickly, puts out enough volume to listen to podcasts in the shower and is rechargeable. It's merely water resistant, not proof, so you don't want to dunk it. But if your soapy, clumsy hands drop it in the tub, so what? It's only about 30 bucks.
Finally, what's better than a product recommendation from CNET, Consumer Reports, tech blogs or forum trolls? An honest opinion from a friend. If you had a buddy who inherited a bunch of money and had an insatiable appetite for buying and testing every gadget on the market, you could just drop by his house whenever you were considering a new phone, backpack, vacuum or food scale. We're not all so blessed, but we have the next best thing in The Wirecutter. It was started by Brian Lam, a Gizmodo refugee, and Lam's approach is that of a buddy who's tried all the options and will tell you what HE would buy. Speeds and feeds are helpful, but The Wirecutter is a refreshingly candid and useful resource. (Guess where I found out about the Zojirushi.)