There was a day when advertising was all you needed to push a product. You could buy a bunch of space on TV, the radio, and in magazines, and everybody would be talking about you in no time.
But not anymore.
Today, if you look at the brands that are doing really well — the ones that are really crushing it — you’ll see that many of them don’t stop at remarkable advertising. They make a remarkable product.
The product isn’t just good. It’s sexy.
Several brands make great examples, but there’s one company more than any other that’s at the top of everyone’s mind. It’s the company with the sexy logo, the sexy ads, the sexy products, and the sexy packaging:
Sure, they have great ads, but there’s more to it. What goes through your head when you look at a new iPhone 4.0 or an iMac?
If you’re like most people: pure, unadulterated lust. You have to have it.
So how do they do it? Is there some special secret?
Well… what better way to find out than by going straight to the source?
Use Only the Best Materials
In a recent interview, Jonathan Ive, Apple’s Senior VP of Design had this to say:
“A big part of the experience of a physical object has to do with the materials…understanding, that preoccupation with the materials and processes, is [very] essential to the way we work.”
He goes on to explain the precise machinery required to design and create the new iPhone 4.0, and the importance of the relationship between form and mastery of material.
Obviously, there are some philosophical leanings in this discussion, but let’s push that aside for a minute and examine what we can learn about our own industry from Ive’s quote.
If you read between the lines, you’ll see that when Ive speaks of materials, he speaks of them in a way that defines the intended user experience. He’s in love with his materials.
To Apple, it’s not good enough just to make the iPhone out of cheap steel and plastic. The materials are a product in their own right, and it’s just as important that they’re sexy too.
Think I’m embellishing? Take a look at the iPhone product page, and you’ll see what I mean. The first two headlines aren’t bragging about features or benefits. They’re bragging about materials!
Apple knows they can’t sell a sexy iPhone application if the iPhone itself looks like crap. You have to start with the actual materials and work your way up.
The same is true for digital products.
If you’re putting together a website, you can’t just throw in a few pretty images and expect it to look great. You need great typography, a great color scheme, and a great layout.
Digital or physical, it all begins with the fundamentals. If you want to make your product more sexy, that’s where you should start.
Cut out As Much As You Can
Sometimes, it’s not what you put in the product, but what you don’t put in that counts.
Back in 1984, Steve Jobs had this to say about it:
“If you read the Apple’s first brochure, the headline was ‘Simplicity is the Ultimate Sophistication.’ What we meant by that was that when you first attack a problem it seems really simple because you don’t understand it. Then when you start to really understand it, you come up with these very complicated solutions because it’s really hairy. Most people stop there. But a few people keep burning the midnight oil and finally understand the underlying principles of the problem and come up with an elegantly simple solution for it. But very few people go the distance to get there.”
So what does this mean, and how does it relate to you?
The short version: less is more.
In product design and marketing, an experience is defined by customer perception, not business theory. If your customers can’t sign up, can’t open the package, or can’t use it, they’re not happy.
If you need a 300 page manual or a 10 page FAQ in order to use your product, then maybe it’s time to cut something out. Simplify it, so your customer can understand what it’s really about.
You can do it. It’s just a matter of chipping away all of the stuff that doesn’t matter, leaving you with the core of the product.
Manage the Complete User Experience
Have you ever bought an album based on the cover, only to find that the music sucks? What about buying something online because of a cool-looking picture only to be disappointed when it arrives?
Yeah? Well, that never happens with Apple.
Buy any Apple product, and you’ll see that they take great care to present their product as a work of art. Their website is sexy, their email receipts are sexy, even their packaging is sexy.
They are fanatical about it. So much, in fact, that they went so far as to place patents on the boxes the iPhone’s come in.
Here’s what Jobs had to say during a 2008 interview with Fortune Magazine:
“Our DNA is as a consumer company – for that individual customer who’s voting thumbs up or thumbs down. That’s who we think about. And we think that our job is to take responsibility for the complete user experience. And if it’s not up to par, it’s our fault, plain and simply.”
Notice how he said, “complete?”
If you want to design a sexy product, you can’t ignore a single detail of the user experience. Stop looking at products as a solo unit, and look at the entire flow.
It’s a Philosophy
So, materials, simplicity, and user experience? Is that all there is to it?
No, I don’t think so.
Sure, each of those elements are part of great design, but I believe this goes beyond design.
It’s about philosophy.
Sexy products aren’t a fancy package, a great looking banner, or a slick button. They’re about wowing the customer.
Try as we might, that’s not something you can dissect into an easy set of step-by-step directions. It’s a mindset, a belief system, a philosophy of business that drives everything you do.
The good news is that makes it attainable. To make your products sexy, you don’t need a whole building of designers or an agency on Madison Avenue.
You just need to commit to giving your customers a truly memorable experience.
And that’s something any company can do, no matter how big or small.