By John Gruber on September 4, 2008
Adam Lisagor on the innovative “tilt scrolling” feature in Instapaper Pro.
By David Weiss on September 2, 2008
My son and I recently visited the Legacy Flight Museum in Rexburg, Idaho. This is an aviation museum that they call a “living museum” because everything on display actually flies regularly! In fact, we see them flying over our house on a weekly basis.
When we entered the office area of the hanger to start the guided tour, I saw a large table full of model airplane parts, plans, glue and paints.
The museum is open 9 AM to 5 PM, Monday through Saturday in the summer, even so, there are times when there are no visitors. During the down time some of the curators and tour guides build model airplanes. When we were there, we met one of them, his name was George Howard. After the tour, I asked him about his hobby, and he showed off his model airplanes.
He had a P-61 Black Widow, a B-25 Mitchell, a B-17 Flying Fortress, a B-29 Superfortress, a Convair B-36 as well as many other smaller fighters and planes whose names I don’t remember. It turns out he teaches model building classes in the museum from time to time. You could tell by talking to him that he loves the planes. While we were talking about the models, he said this, “If you’ll look into the cockpit, you can see the dashboard is all painted. Every plane is like that, even at 1/32nd scale. The propellers all work, and the wheels on the landing gear work and even the ordinance hooks release.” Gingerly putting down one of his prized planes he picked up the B-29 Superfortress and continued, “This plane has an office and bunks and they’re all painted on the inside, if you could see them, you’d see all the detail. You know when you start cutting corners, who knows where you’ll stop? I try to go all the way.”
This idea of doing something “on the inside” bespeaks a level of integrity and love for quality work that is rare in any line of work, but especially in software. The counter arguments abound: Why the extra time and effort? Why should we be doing something that will seldom if ever be seen or appreciated by the end user? Where’s the customer use case? What’s the business case? Who cares? How will this really make a difference for the customer? Like painting on the inside of a model airplane, the answer is, of course, that they will not know, but you will. As the builder, designer and developer of the product, you will know that it’s painted on the inside.
There’s a long tradition of quality that can’t be seen with time pieces, especially small ones. If you have ever opened a clock, or observed as an expert watchmaker opened the case, you know of the intricate gears and precise beauty inside. While the watch cover almost always conceals this internal and hidden quality workmanship, it was seen by enough people that it became the common standard for exact, reliable and good engineering. People would say a system was good when it “worked like clockwork.” Some modern clock manufacturers have chosen to put on display the internals of their clockwork. This is an interesting way to allow the user a window into the complex and detailed world of gears, springs and latches that make the whole product work.
Now, one might again argue, “Where is the user scenario? How does this actually make it better for the user? But, of course, there is no user scenario. Functionally, the clock is the same with or without the glass panel. One might even argue that with the gears exposed it is harder to read the time! But the feelings of the user about the purchased piece of engineering are much, much different. There’s a feeling of trust that someone took the time to make all of those inscrutable pieces fit together and work so that he or she could do something rather simple, like keep track of time. There’s also a sense of pride in owning such a fine bit of complexity.
My favorite “marketing use” for this kind of watch is where the manufacturer has put the window on the back of the wrist watch only. This way the watch looks normal in every other respect, except when the user puts on the watch or takes it off. If someone comments on the watch, there’s a natural path for the owner to say, “Thanks, but look at this…” and pull off the watch and show all the insides clicking and moving just like, clockwork. “Cool huh?” “Yeah, it’s beautiful.”
The integrity of design and beauty was always there. Functionally, there is no new “feature” in the watch. But if you call love for the product and desire for superb quality, inside and out, a feature, well then, this kind of product has it.
This kind of care for the inside and unseen workings applies just as much to what you do as to how you do it. For as long as I can remember, part of the tradition for shipping software at Microsoft has been that you get a “Trophy Box” or a copy of the shipping software, in the shrink wrap for you to use or just keep on display. Many at Microsoft would simply keep each one of these on a shelf over time accumulating physical reminders of products they had helped to produce. This tradition was followed for Mac Office 2008 as well, but for the first time in MacBU history it was different:
The Mac Office 2008: The Special Launch Edition
The front of the box
The back of the box
The inner sleeve
The Office Pen: Proof that MacBU has produced multi-touch hardware.
Nice touch on the Office logo.
Not just Office, but Expression Media too!
The CDs: Nice “ether” swoosh stuff, eh?
Nicely etched Office ship date on the back of the box along with the edition number.
The correct number of Stickies! Well played!
Now, no one in MacBU will deny that the Office 2008 product cycle was a tough one, and a box like this in no way makes up for all the difficulties. Certainly it doesn’t “help sales”, but it does mean something to those on the inside. It says something to the employees, who are your first customers. It says, “You’re worth taking a little extra time and a little extra care.” This kind of message may not be something accountants can tabulate in the asset column, but its value is there just the same.
The Apple Paperclip
A few months ago, my wife’s iPhone stopped working. We called Apple and since we were nowhere near an Apple Store the lady on the phone said she would send us a box to send the iPhone back to Apple for repairs. This kind of process, while less ideal than dropping the phone off at an Apple Store and walking out with a loaner phone, is something I’ve come to expect from Apple’s customer support. When we got the box here’s what it looked like:
The iPhone repair box we received.
Simple directions on the lid of the box
3 steps: Help is here. Back it up. Pack it up. Note to Apple: Apology accepted.
The “iPhone Service Guide”, step 1: Don’t lose this.
The Real iPhone repair box.
The white box is padded, with a padded sleeve for the iPhone. And tape.
The foam case. The red stripe removes to expose adhesive for the flap.
Tape strips for closing the box included.
Let me review the situation: Apple sends a box with thick foam padding and return postage paid to send your iPhone to Apple to repair. General overview of the process, backup and packing is provided, as well as detailed instructions. Inside the thick foam is another box, also with foam padding, and inside this box is a foam sleeve with a flap to fully surround your iPhone with protective padding for the trip. Tape is included so you don’t even need to find packing tape to get the job done!
Look at all the padding and packaging there to protect your precious iPhone! What does it say to you as the customer about how Apple feels about your iPhone? What does that say to you about how important your iPhone should be to you? But the most distinctly “Apple touch” in the whole package is the Apple SIM Ejector Tool that is included:
An individually packaged paperclip! Did they need to do that? How much did that cost them? Couldn’t they just trust that folks could find a paperclip around the house or office? Yes they could have, but they didn’t. With the desire to make the the whole process as painless as possible they made a negative repair experience into a positive, brand building and trust building one.
I’m sure there are other examples, but it’s this care for the little details, things on the inside, bits that are often unseen, that can really make a difference both for you as the service provider and as the customer receiving the care. When someone buys a product, it’s partially about the cost and the feature set, but for your best customers, it’s also about buying into the person on the other end of the transaction. Having the integrity to keep things “painted on the inside” really matters in the long run, because eventually it shows. You can’t hide it. Eventually, it will get out and when it does, it will define for others who you are.
Most importantly, however, long before anyone else will know, you will. You can go on putting “lipstick on a pig” for a long time and be successful at it, but from the beginning you’ll know and that will effect the way you treat the product and treat yourself. I’m not suggesting everything you do must be perfect, but it really needs to be your very best. You could be doing your very best and still be unsuccessful in a myriad of ways, but it’s much easier to learn from your mistakes when you can look back and honestly say, “Well, I did the best I could.” Additionally, there’s something very peaceful and happy about doing great work, even if it’s only great for you. The alternative is in my mind untenable because, “You know, when you start cutting corners, who knows where you’ll stop?”