Taste and Specification

Taste in product creation overlaps a lot with design: doing it well requires it to be valued, rewarded, and embedded in the company’s culture and upper leadership.

That is a quote from Marco Arment‘s post titled Time and Taste. An excellent post as usual from Marco, and I would like to elaborate on the taste aspect.

Specification is not the Product

Any product is always built to a specification. A 4-inch touch-sensitive screen, 1GB RAM, 8GB memory, expansion via SD card slots and so on. Yet the result, when one considers an Android phone, feels like something a one-eyed drunkard put together, after pondering nuances with co-drunkards in a noisy section of a 3rd world bazaar.

Yes it is manufactured to specification but the thing functions in a way that makes you feel disappointed every damn time. That experience betrays lack of taste at every point from, and between, producer to consumer. Of course there will be a market for poorly designed products/services. You could argue about affordability, demographic needs, wider price points and so on. But a producer of such tasteless goods is only a slightly refined version of crooks who steal from children.

Aesthetic Escapes Specification

What is taste? Hard to describe but taste can be i) an aesthetic sensibility ii) an outcome of a specific world-view or iii) result of a reasoned belief. Taste, like reasoning, is a skill of mental cognition. Everything needs to be actively thought about, critiqued and most important savored for what it is beyond its functionality .

Put simply, if specification is prose then taste would be poetry. A specification can never capture beauty and feeling.

Why should you care? Tasteful products have competitive differentiation built-in. Of course it requires an audience with taste. The challenge will be to identify this audience, if not to work towards educating and building up an audience with taste. That done, you don’t have to play the “price drop” game anymore. And taste is hard to copy too. Your competitor can steal a feature or your style but they can seldom be you or your product.

Where does taste stand in your scheme of things? Does your organization have it, encourage it?

Seth Godin On Market’s Taste

On the market’s taste Seth Godin says, “the mass market is a fool..If you wait for the market to tell you that you’re great, you’ll merely end up wasting time.”

I agree with that view and wish to add to it. Leave alone the market, you would find such shortsightedness even within your own firm. Perhaps your stakeholders, your peers or others whose buy-in would be essential to move forward on the vision.

Being clued in is a function of how aware the audience is of the prevailing market realities, the accompanying trends and how the customer preference dynamics could evolve as a result of these interactions.

And being clued in has nothing to do with past experience. In fact extensive experience can, and often does, cloud judgment.

Being clued in requires an open mind, one that is willing to put up every assumption aside in the consideration of possibilities. It requires a keen intelligence and robust imagination to make the rational mental leaps required to walk along the possible pathways of the future.

In their own way, to use the phrase of Gretzky,  a visionary skates to where the puck would be. It requires a perfect understanding of puck-physics, people’s motivations, their possible next moves and where the window of opportunity would materialize within the interplay of these factors.