ETech: Joel on Misattribution
I attended Joel Spolsky's talk this afternoon, which was supposed to be on community building. Having become bored with the subject since he submitted his proposal to the O'Reilly folks several months ago, Spolsky decided to instead focus on trying to figure out what differentiates products that lead their industry (like, say, the iPod) versus products that are also-rans (like Creative's offering).
Before I continue, let me say that Spolsky is a hell of a speaker. He speaks as he writes, using things like Brad and Jen's breakup, Abercrombie & Fitch's website, anthropologist Clotaire Rapaille, Sweet Home Alabama and a hilarious send-up of installing a digital camera in Windows 2000 to drive home his point. He was cracking jokes throughout the presentation, wandering into areas that were seemingly completely unrelated, only to tie things together a slide or two later. Highly enjoyable.
Anyways, what's Spolsky's formula for differentiating a #1 product from a #2 product?
1. Make people happy. Never underestimate the value of having Things Just Work (he used the Windows digicam installation example here). Spolsky spoke about learned helplessness, which can contribute to depression because those afflicted have learned that anything they do is futile. Treatment for learned helplessness consists of small victories--for example, giving patients a pile of napkins to fold.
Extending the theory of learned helplessness to product development, Spolsky compared Amazon's checkout process to Abercrombie's. Amazon's is non-directed, and the user can complete the checkout steps (billing info, shipping info, etc.) steps in whatever order they like. In Abercrombie's, however, users are constrained to the process that Abercrombie has determined is appropriate and so users learn to feel helpless.
I think Spolsky's larger point abut learned helplessness is applicable, but I don't know that I agree with this specific example. In my experience, users function much better in a directed environment (like a process with four steps) than in a non-directed environment.
2. Think about emotions. Why do customers feel safer driving a Ford Explorer (88 deaths per million Explorers on the road) than in a Camry (41 deaths per million)? Spolsky borrows a line of thinking from Rapaille here:
at the reptilian level they think that if I am bigger and taller I'm safer. You feel secure because you are higher and dominate and look down. That you can look down is psychologically a very powerful notion.This intuitively makes sense, but is speculation from the same man who said:
And what was the key element of safety when you were a child? It was that your mother fed you, and there was warm liquid. That's why cupholders are absolutely crucial for safety. If there is a car that has no cupholder, it is not safe. If I can put my coffee there, if I can have my food, if everything is round, if it's soft, and if I'm high, then I feel safe. It's amazing that intelligent, educated women will look at a car and the first thing they will look at is how many cupholders it has.
3. Obsess over aesthetics. Spolsky used three examples here. He's convinced that you have to send your iPod back to Apple to get the battery replaced because they did not want to put latches on the iPod because doing so would have sullied the iPod aesthetic.
Second, he showed pictures of a French apartment building, which had no fire escapes. The reason? The French think they're ugly, and got the apartment building classified as a historical site so the fire inspectors wouldn't require the installation of fire escapes.
Third, he made the point that the interface is the software. It does not matter what is under the hood; all that matters to the user is what he interacts with on the screen.
The bottom line, Mr. Spolsky? "The world is really really superficial."
The one takeaway he wanted us to have from his highly entertaining presentation was to understand the concept of misattribution.
Misattribution occurs when someone's emotions are affected while they are experiencing a situation or making a decision. When you ask them about the situation, their answer is based on their elicited emotional response that you brought on, and not the reality of the situation. Spolsky used the example of having to pee really badly during the last half of a movie. When you get out of the movie, you're more likely to tell your friends that the movie wasn't very good, but that's not because the movie wasn't actually very good--it's because you were extremely uncomfortable because you had to go pee, and were attributing the notion that the movie was not very good to the quality of the movie.
In other words, the takehome is to make your product pretty, and people will misattribute all the happiness they feel about your product to its functionality. I'm not sure I agree with this, again, because I think the iPod's interface is genius. It looks pretty, sure, but Jobs and company innovated with regard to the interface as much as they did to the aesthetic.
To cap it off, Spolsky finished by saying that maybe we misattributed the quality of the presentation to the fact that he was cracking lots of jokes and played Sweet Home Alabama... and then proceeded to crank the song, to a thunderous ovation.
In the end, I'm not sure what to think. His presentation was super entertaining, but a bit fluffy, even though I don't disagree with his formula. In the end, it was the most enjoyable presentation I've seen yet at ETech, and it made me think, so I guess I'm happy. :)
Technorati tags: etech