Gadgets And Goals


What makes the best gadgets great? An understanding of goals and attention to design details. When we take a step back from writing requirements about software, and think about gadgets and goals – the perspective can help us write better requirements and make better prioritization decisions.

Thought Provoking

Mike Schaffner’s recent article about what we can learn from our favorite technologies got me thinking. We can learn about how to focus on goals to make great products. In summary of Mike’s points, the best technologies do one thing and do it well – sound technology that works, and is easy to use. Those characteristics are necessary*, but not sufficient to having a great product.

* Doing just one thing may not be the right goal, but for any given product, there is one thing or very few things that are more important than all the others. We’ve written about the 80/20 rule of requirements in the past – but it might even be 90/10.

Lets pick an example.

Apple’s 2nd Generation iPod Shuffle

ipod shuffle

I’ve been using a shuffle since the start of the year. I guess dropping hints at holiday times helps. If we think about creating a portable music device, we could come up with any of a number of criteria for the product:

  • Great sound
  • Long battery life
  • Ease of use
  • Price

But that would be backwards. Yes, the long battery life is good – but not differentiating. Nor is the size – other small players are out there. Pricing defines a market more than it defines dominance of a market. And sound quality matters – but how much? Is an audiophile going to use a shuffle as their primary listening device, or does it just need to be good enough (which it definitely is).

We can start by thinking about goals. For a device like the shuffle, it would be personal goals. I wish I could remember who said it, but someone wrote that the iPod is a “process improvement device” for improving the process of walking around (by adding music to it). What a great way to think about it. And yes, the shuffle definitely makes walking the dog more entertaining.

There is one feature of the shuffle that I thought was mildly interesting when I got it, and now I think it is the killer feature. That’s the clip.

One User’s Story

While not a full fledged persona and scenario development exercise, let me share a little about how I use my shuffle.

I am not a fan of working in the yard. The exercise is nice, and the results are worth the effort – but the time usually feels wasted to me. I may be a little ADHD, so even when I think “productively”, I bounce around from idea to idea – and no more than one or two survive to the end of the yard work. The rest of that time is “lost.”

I also listen to several podcasts – tech podcasts, programming podcasts, science friday from NPR (which is awesome), and occasionally books on tape. But I could never make time to listen to them. With the shuffle, I can listen while I work in the yard. I also use noise-reduction headphones, so I can listen even when mowing and weed-whacking.

Why The Clip Works

What makes this possible is the clip. I can clip the shuffle onto the back of my baseball cap and tuck the cord under my shirt. If the audio device were in my pocket, or strapped to my arm (options with other devices), the cord would get in the way. For walking around, there’s no real difference. But for doing active stuff – all the difference in the world. Thanks to Tom for mentioning the baseball cap trick to me – previously, I had clipped it to my collar. That works great on planes when you’re travelling – no cord to mess with while you launch your roll-a-board into the overhead compartment.

What’s The Point?

The main point is to think about the most important thing(s) for your product. And think outside of the box. iPod shuffle as process-improvement. I love it. I think all of the non-clip features are undifferentiated “me too” features in the shuffle. But the clip is valuable and unique.

What is “the clip” for your favorite gadget? What is “the clip” for the product you’re working on right now?

3 thoughts on “Gadgets And Goals

  1. Scott,

    Thanks for the link. I really like your example of the iPod clip. It shows how we need to design our products based on the way our customers actually use them and not on how we think they should use them. As you point out putting the effort in to this kind of “personalization” is really what differentiates our products.


  2. You said: ‘I wish I could remember who said it, but someone wrote that the iPod is a “process improvement device”’ – FYI, that was me, in my “Three boxes” article I just posted to Nexus.


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