March 11, 2011

The challenge of “How” vs. “What”

“If you told me ‘I’m gonna smear mayo & green stuff all over your fish,’” said Craig Kilborn in an old bit, “I’d probably say ‘No thanks’… but tartar sauce, you make it work.”

Similarly, if you’d asked me last fall, “Hey, do you want an underpowered camera app (one in which you lose features like zoom), a handful of non-adjustable filters, oh, and Yet Another Social Network where you need to locate friends?,” I’d have dutifully asked to see your crack pipe.

And yet I found myself in Germany, sans cell coverage, really missing Instagram. What?

The app has hooked me with its simplicity & the thoughtfulness of its social media integration. It ties creation together with social rewards (“Russell liked my photo! I exist!“), and canned filters share an appeal with Flip cameras: they save me from the temptation of futzing around.

All this comes through while using the app, but it’s hard to convey on paper.

It’s hard, at a glance, to pick up on the novelty/appeal of “how” (doing the same thing differently) as opposed to “what” (doing something different). Put another way, it’s often easier to say, “This app does New Thing X that you’ve never done before” than to say, “Do what you’ve already been doing (and maybe switch away from your current tools), but in a better way.”

Before it was announced, Lightroom suffered from this problem for years*. Potential customers & Adobe staff alike said, “I already have Photoshop, which includes Bridge & Camera Raw, and you’re saying you want me to pay more money to get the same features, minus a bunch?”  The power of “how” came through only in use.

I was driven crazy back then when asking pro photographers whether Camera Raw should be integrated directly in Bridge, as it is in Lightroom (which they hadn’t used), instead of living as a big dialog box.  I surveyed the most thoughtful, forward-thinking alpha testers we knew.  Oh no, they said, it was far more important to do things X, Y, and Z; they direct-vs.-dialog thing was unimportant.  Yet as soon as they’d gotten into Lightroom, they came back and said, “Oh, when will ACR be built right into Bridge? That’s really important!”  Ugh; you don’t say…

Why do I mention all this?  Well, I’ve spent the better part of a year describing interesting concepts for tablet-based creative apps to customers, and it’s been tough to get pre-approval for many (well, besides photo management & client review).  That is, we’ll simply have to take some leaps of faith before people can tell us more–and so we shall.  And just maybe, like tartar sauce & Instagram, the proof will be in the eating**.

* The story of Lightroom’s gestation is an interesting one.
** Proof, incidentally, is not “
in the pudding.”

Posted by John Nack at 3:51 PM on March 11, 2011
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