4 Steps to a Magical Product

The greatest compliment Steve Jobs could give a product was “magical.” But what does magical mean? And can the rest of us make magical products?

In a customer’s eyes magical products are simple and beautiful. Let’s look at these a little closer.

First, simple: make your product achieve exactly what the customer wants to achieve with the least number of steps, time and effort. Zero steps, zero time and zero effort are best and should be your goal although understandably unreachable for some products.

Making your product simple means having a deep understanding of your customer and what they’re trying to accomplish. For Steve, this depth of understanding could even go beyond what his customers could verbalize or visualize.

Second, beautiful: your product must be beautiful but only in ways that support its functionality. No distractions, nothing unnecessary. If it can’t be invisible, then carefully consider the visual, aural and tactile aesthetics that lead the user naturally through the functions. Color: only if needed, and pleasing when there. Shapes: designed as cues to their function, but also complementary and consistent. Sounds: distinct and purposeful, high quality and uplifting.

Here are the four steps to create a magical product:

1. Have a deep understanding of your customer. You must empathize with how your customers feels.

2. Know what your customer is trying to achieve. Know why they’re trying to achieve it. How do they feel when they’re successful? How do they feel if they can’t accomplish it?

3. Design a product that helps them finish in the least possible steps, in the shortest possible time, with the least amount of cognitive and physical effort. Michelangelo, when asked how he created his sculpture David is reputed to have said, “I simply removed everything that wasn’t David.” He might say to you, as you design your product, “Remove everything that doesn’t support what your customer wants to achieve.”

4. Finally, to the extent that your customer must see, hear, touch, taste or smell your product, delight them. Leave your customer feeling joyful, pleased and satisfied even if they don’t know why.

And we’re back to looking through our customer’s eyes again: magical = simple + beautiful.

But what if you’re not not Steve Jobs?

The magic starts to happen with a shift in thinking. Yes, none of us is Steve Job but we can still ask ourselves these questions: Is my product magical? If not, could it be? What needs to be done? How quickly can I make it happen?

At my company, StratPad, we create software that helps entrepreneurs create business plans. Every day we try to imagine how we can make things magical for our customers even though this seems to be an impossible task, an oxymoron:magical business plan software? Who am I trying to kid?!

And yet by pursuing the goal of “magical,” as impossible as it may seem, we’ve discovered new ways of doing things that have delighted our customers. For example, they can instantly create a complete set of integrated, multi-year financial projections by entering only three numbers (▸). Awesome!

Would Steve have called StratPad “magical?” Perhaps not. But that doesn’t stop us from striving for it.

And hey, if we can do it with business plan software, it can be done with any product!


First published September 15, 2014