Pushing the Threshold: What Makes Products Great?

When thinking of product design, it can be helpful to start by reflecting on physical products and what separates the great from the good. I believe a great product stands the test of time and becomes a fixture in our lives.

Lever-type opener that punctures the rim of the can and slowly drives the sickle-shaped blade into the can, slicing it open. (Warning: may also slice a finger off.)

Has a product adapted from its original design to meet the needs of its users? Have the production processes improved, accompanied by better design and better revenue, year-over-year?

Voted “Best Handheld Can Opener” with over 1,300 rave reviews. (Note: This is not a paid endorsement. I don’t even own a can opener.)

Is the end-user pledging loyalty to an intuitive product by recommending it to other, potential users?

Today, new technical products are created daily. While there can be many variables to define success, I find that a great product is one that can be pushed to its limits while successfully reacting to unexpected demands. How a product adapts as pressure is mounting, can be the ‘thing’ that creates loyalty for a first-time user, or solidifies the frequency of a returning customer.

This past year, I was a Product Manager for a tourism company that was navigating through the downturn in travel by rolling-out a virtual tour product in 13 international cities. In March of 2020, our team quickly created over 30 individual virtual tour products with multiple ‘departures’, every day of the week.

To stream these tours, we needed a consistent, live video-sharing platform. It needed to provide basic function and not distract from the subject matter (no one wants to attempt to upstage this…).

The Sistine Chapel (photo credit: caloniedoesart.wordpress.com/)

Zoom was already a fixture in our company’s daily communications. We had been using the platform for years to host all-hands meetings. Although Zoom lacked eye-catching UI, it provided reliable service and met our basic needs. It was a no-brainer to use Zoom as the host for our new virtual tour product.

As the world rushed to find ways to communicate with colleagues and loved ones, we saw several things happen. First, practical functions that were once accepted as ‘adequate’, were now being used for complex collaborations. Additionally, in the first two months of increased use, instances of ‘Zoom-bombing’ and security of meeting rooms became a growing concern. Finally, as Zoom gained an entirely new demographic of first-time users, feature requests and UI tweaks began to flood in.

To address these safety and security concerns, Zoom openly communicated a plan-of-action. The plan added encryptions on the meeting room link, required passwords and ‘waiting rooms’, and added robust host controls, allowing the user to know that they were truly in control of the meeting.

Over time we saw the usability of the meeting room chat function improve, and share screen and whiteboard sessions become more user-friendly. Moreover, Zoom rolled-out a new Breakout Room feature: we were no longer had to awkwardly leave a meeting room, only to rejoin another, smaller one. Users got the opportunity to exercise their individualism as the technology surrounding Virtual Backgrounds was tested, updated and adopted successfully.

Thank you @itsdancrowd for being everyone’s hero in a Monday morning meeting.

Some innovations could be executed better and have been, piecemeal, by other, similar organizations. But Zoom, considered a antiquated behemoth by some, made some radical moves and is providing over 300 million daily users with incremental, useful improvements.

Hospitality-obsessed, mission-driven, eco-nut trying my hand at User Experience Design. (UX Academy Student @Designlab)