Each of these brands develop and sell vastly different and unrelated products, but it’s not just “stuff” they market to consumers, it’s experience. There’s no doubt that Whole Foods is more than just groceries, Audi is more than simply automobiles, Starbucks is more than just coffee and pastries, and Moleskine more than stationary.
Whether we’re motivated by a personal attraction to elegance and quality or enticed by the cultural and societal status these brands signify, we still place a premium on the experience they provide. The experience embedded into these brands is why we pay $2 for a grande coffee at Starbucks when we could brew it for $0.47 at home or $10 for a Moleskine notebook instead of buying a $1 notebook from The Dollar Tree.
Even Stanford University President John Hennessy alluded to the draw of experience in an interview with Salman Khan about the future of credentialing in higher education. When asked if Stanford would ever consider implementing a completely online learning model for undergraduate, Hennessy quickly replied “no”:
“We require our [undergraduate] students to live in a community for four years. And we believe that’s an important part of the [education] process…Will fully online learning be an experience that we feel is equivalent to the on-campus experience? That will be the question.
In other words, a significant portion of what these students (err–their parents) are paying for at these elite institutions has nothing to do actual classroom education. Of course I acknowledge that more prestigious universities attract high quality professors and can afford to provide student’s access to exceptional resources, etc… But my point is that students are not paying for the quality of the information being delivered (you can pretty much find all of that online, free of change); they are paying for the community, the culture, the experience.
This desire for experience is why I occasionally struggle with buying books for Kindle. I have a voracious appetite for knowledge and information. It’s a problem I’ve given up trying to recover from and finally just accepted. But compound my natural inclination to seek out information with the demands of graduate school…and I’m sure you can imagine the amount of money Amazon.com has sucked from my bank account over the past several years.
Out of necessity, my buying habits have started to shift. More and more, I find myself purchasing Kindle books instead of print copies. And there are obvious reasons for this:
- Ease – It’s so easy (too easy) to hit that “Buy now with 1-Click” button and have a book instantly delivered to my iPad. When I see a book, I
want itneed it now. I can’t wait the horrifically “long” 1-2 days it takes Amazon Prime to ship it to my front door.
- Currency – I’m oft plagued with envy of my dear Victorianist academics who can purchase a used paperback copy of Jane Eyre or Tale of Two Cities for a dollar and some change. But let’s face it, when you’re researching anything technology-related, the material is practically outdated by the time it goes to print. Books in print long enough to be “used” might as well be considered antique. Which leads me to my next point.
- Cost – Newly published books are expensive. More often than not, Kindle editions are at least half the cost of the print copy. When you’re averaging 1-2 books a week, that makes a huge difference.
- Portability – When I’m working on a project, I have a bad habit of toting around all of my books and notes with me everywhere (yes, I’m that girl). Kindle makes this more manageable–and less embarrassing.
- Usability – When I read books on Kindle, I don’t have to worry about copying down quotes or page numbers. Once I’ve read the book, I can easily log into my kindle.amazon.com account, pull up the book I just read, and view all of my highlights and notes (along with corresponding page/location numbers) all in one place. Then it’s just a matter of copying and pasting them into my notes. I’ve also become a big fan of Kindle’s internal “search” feature–it’s much more comprehensive than most glossaries.
All of these factors make the decision to buy Kindle editions over print copies easy. But if I’m honest with myself, even if I did have the means to buy all the print copy books I want, had them delivered to me instantaneously, and had someone willing to following me around every day with my library packed on his back…I’d still purchase the Kindle books–solely because of the usable experience.
I’ll be the first to admit that the current design of digital books is not perfect, and I’ve discussed that before on this blog. I think we could do much better. But for the most part, the experience is pleasant: I can read more quickly on screen, and my note-taking process is more streamlined. When I’m reading for the purpose of gather information for my grad school work, the information is what matters most.
But my utilitarian attitude fly out the window the moment I decide to purchase a book about design. Before hitting that “Buy now with 1-Click” button” I’m confronted by reviewers who’ve commented on the beauty of the artwork or elegance of the layout. And I’m reminded that books on design take great care in packaging their content: their pages are heavier and typically have a rich matte finish, their typography is carefully selected, and their images are always perfectly shot and displayed.
I know my struggle has nothing to do with cost, ease, usability, or even quality of information. It’s all about the experience–the feel, the look, even the smell of a traditional book.
The delivery of information itself is no longer enough. The fact that a traditional book doesn’t have a “search” feature doesn’t matter, neither does the realization that I’ll have to take all my notes and copy out each quote by hand. The functionality–and dare I say “usability”–is trumped by a desired experience.
Ultimately, I think this holds true for all the products we buy and use. Usability and functionality are essential, but they can catch and hold our interest and loyalty only to a certain point. It’s not enough for a product to just be usable. That’s the baseline; that’s expected. Designers must strive to make their products attractive, engaging and enjoyable. As we become more accustomed to products that offer an experience rather than just provide a functional tool, designers will face greater and greater challenges to create products that “stick” and keep us coming back again and again.