Three key principles of designing home-run products

I’ve noticed three key principles that several successful products possess.

1. Provide a novel form of self expression

People love to express themselves. This is why we buy the clothes we like, enjoy customizing our World of Warcraft characters, decorate our apartments, change our profile and cover photos, put bumper stickers on our cars, among many other things. Every decision you make is a form of self expression. Even if you are buying a pair of $5 throwaway glasses for Coachella, you’re exercising your taste whether you’re doing it consciously or not.

If you can provide a fun new way for people to exercise their taste and creativity to express themselves, people will try it. People love trying new things and being the first to spread news to their friends about the new thing, which is always great for a new product.

For examples of novel forms of self expression, you can look at recent products like Instagram, SnapGuide, Diptic, or Cinemagram which all allow you to create things that you weren’t easily able to do before. You can also look at more historic products, like MySpace, where an exploit-turned-feature allowed users to thoroughly customize their profiles and how that led to its mass adoption.

2. Make it stupidly simple

The task of expressing yourself needs to be dead simple. Think Instagram vs. Photoshop. There’s an enormous gap between the time it takes you to achieve the same effect in each. Instagram makes it so easy for you to exercise this novel form of self expression and produce immediate results that it’s even enjoyable to complete the task.

SnapGuide took the process of creating a how-to and made it extremely easy. While creating how-tos is not necessarily novel, it was previously not accessible to most people. SnapGuide made this form of self expression available to the masses, effectively providing a novel form of self expression.

3. Make it rewarding

This is the glue between it all. Once someone has expressed themselves, if they feel rewarded, you’ll have them for life. There are two important forms of reward I want to highlight: satisfaction and validation.

As with any laborious work, your work is not finished until you are satisfied. Satisfaction is the guiding feeling that drives creation and directs creativity. A painter doesn’t release his painting until he is satisfied with his work. Steve Jobs didn’t release the new iPhone until he was vehemently satisfied with the product. A designer is not satisfied until his design reaches perfection. Work that is released before satisfaction is reached generally results in a sub-par product.

Think about this: When you create a novel form of self expression and you’ve made it extremely easy to do, you’ve provided people with a shortcut to feeling satisfaction. You optimize and reduce time-to-satisfaction – this is extremely powerful.

Instagram has reduced the time to satisfaction like a boss. Take a photo, and start skimming filters with ease until you find the one that satisfies you. Diptic takes all of the work out of creating photo collages for you, so when you select a few photos, they do all the hard work and sweep you into a feeling of satisfaction with the collage they generate for you.

This feeling of satisfaction is usually followed by a desire to share and receive praise or approval from others. This leads us to the second and equally important part of reward that closes the loop: validation.

Every successful social product has some form of validation. Facebook has likes and comments. Twitter has retweets and followers. Instagram has likes, followers, and popular. Tumblr has notes, likes, and reblogs. The list goes on. If you launch a social product without any of these feedback mechanisms, you’re doing something wrong.

Humans have a deep-seated psychological need to feel like they belong or that people appreciate them. You might say “Not me!”, but deep inside you’ll hope that someone says “Me neither” and agrees with you. That is because you too crave validation.

If you can master this loop in your product, you’re well on your way to making something people want.

Create → Satisfy → Share → Validate

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