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What Makes It Great? Is not so Great

I hate to nit pick, but your article titled "What Makes It Great", never describes why any of the mentioned products are Great.  The article poses the question, but does not answer it.  I am looking forward to your ideas about where greatness comes from.  I have found your insights in most areas of software development to be very interesting and helpful in understanding the industry.  Still it has been my experience that no one really knows what makes a product great, least of all those you create great products.
Pat O'Hara Send private email
Monday, January 30, 2006
One of the attributes that may make a product great is that it must seem to be exclusive. iPod versus ZEN shows this very well. The iPod is exclusive in peoples minds because it is more expensive and (probably) because it is designed in the USA instead of in the far east.

There is a story here in Denmark about B&O, the Danish high-end Hifi company:
When they started on the US market they did not have succes. Sales were negligble going on non-existent. So what did they do?

They doubled their prices.

Sales took of like a rocket and not very long after, the US market became the most important market for B&O and has remained so ever since.
Ebbe Kristensen Send private email
Monday, January 30, 2006
Agree that this chapter seems weak. A lot of assertions that are not explained or backed up. I still don't know why Joel thinks the iPod nano is great design.

Also, I would argue that great design is not _in spite_ of flaws in the product, but rather _because of_ flaws and the balance between them. Check out Christopher Alexander's notes on the aesthetics of oriental carpets for some intriguing examples.

Merely saying that great design is ineffable isn't very helpful.
Christian Mogensen Send private email
Tuesday, January 31, 2006
Two points:

1. The article was part of the introduction to the whole - thus should not be expected to introduce anything other than the questions to be answered.

2. Greatness is not always about price although (in the absence of other contextual guides) we do use price as a guide to quality. I used to work for a company that operated a small hotel chain. One newly refurbished hotel was not trading particularly well until we increased the room price - the price contained a message to prospective guests and until it was high enough the prospective customer judged the hotel to be below his or her required standard.
Mike Griffiths Send private email
Tuesday, January 31, 2006
It is surprising to read about "the design of Brad Pitt".

Does Joel believe in Intelligent Design?

Anyway... I can't wait to learn how to design my very own Julia Roberts.
Parisian developer available for cute geek girls
Tuesday, January 31, 2006
Using market success as a measure of great design is problematic.  The rest of the marketing effort is ignored.  The iPod (for example) has branding, advertising, and distribution advantages over other players.  These may well be enough to drive the success despite the design.
Jim Rootham Send private email
Tuesday, January 31, 2006
I was also a little let down by this article. What's so great about the iPod? It requires proprietary software just to transfer files, doesn't actually work with most computers I tried it with, and is much more expensive.

Of course it sells the most... and maybe this could be used an an objective indicator of a design's success. However this would also mean that Britney Spears makes the "greatest" music, or that McDonalds have the "greatest" foods.

I'm not sure how you would objectively quantify a design as great. And this is the problem, as otherwise you get into subjective quantifying, which is like arguing about whether purple is better than yellow.

Another thing that adds to the subjective discussion is how/if a product is marketed. The fact that the fancy chair is used for the President to sit on in TV shows, automatically increases its appeal, and at least subjectively its claim to be a great design....

I don't have a solution for this, but just wanted to add my 2 Zloty.
Jeff B Send private email
Wednesday, February 01, 2006
haha McDonalds... No, McDonalds is not in the food business my friend.

After all, most americans can make a better hamburger than McDonalds on their backyard grill.  So why aren't all we grillmaster extradonairs rich? 

I once heard a story like this:
Standing in front of a bunch of college graduates during their graduation ceremony, it was asked if anyone knew who "Ray Kroc" was?  No one raised a hand.  It was then asked, has anyone heard of "McDonalds" and the auditorium laughed.  It was then asked, "Who can make a better hamburger than McDonalds?"  Many laughed and agreed they could...

It was asked, "If you can make a better hamburger than McDonalds, then why aren't you rich?"

"What business is McDonalds in?"  it was asked.  And, the collective response was "Fast Food."

They were all wrong.  Ray Kroc, the founder of McDonalds, was in the real-estate business.  Buying up what most thought was useless land.  He dropped McDonalds restaurants on the properties and it is what it is today.

iPods have a wow factor and they have the Apple name behind them.  I know, without looking it up, that iPOD will interface to my Windows and MAC.  ZEN?  Not so sure.  I've never seen a ZEN commercial where I live here in the East coast, USA.

I walk into BestBuy, large iPOD advertisements.  Hell, even WalMark has an iPOD display center.

Get it?
Eric (another ISV guy with his company)
Wednesday, February 01, 2006
>> Ray Kroc, the founder of McDonalds

I have to jump in here...  Ray Kroc was not the founder of McDonalds. Dick and Mac McDonald were. They had a thriving business going, including franchises before Ray Kroc showed up. And he was a Milkshake Maker salesman...

But in short, after Kroc bought out the two brothers, he rewrote history, claiming he was the founder.
Peter Send private email
Saturday, February 04, 2006
The founders of McDonald's were actually called McDonald!? I always thought that was just the name of that silly clown...
Chris Nahr Send private email
Monday, February 06, 2006
Anyway, this paragraph makes no sense:

"They were all wrong.  Ray Kroc, the founder of McDonalds, was in the real-estate business.  Buying up what most thought was useless land.  He dropped McDonalds restaurants on the properties and it is what it is today."

Maybe for Kroc himself it was all about real estate but last I heard McDonald's is still going strong and expanding. That means somebody must actually want to eat their food, or else Kroc's real estate gamble would quickly have collapsed.

Fast food is indeed the business McDonald's is in. The "fast" part is important. They're not in the business of making _good_ food, they're in the business of giving kids a cheap & quick fix of their favorite junk calories, while still nominally selling a full range of hot meals.

Making your own hamburgers is certainly better but it's not much cheaper and it definitely takes much longer. That, plus the family-friendly environment, is the advantage of McDonald's -- not the quality of the food.
Chris Nahr Send private email
Monday, February 06, 2006
There's a bigger problem with this article, and in something so important as the introduction - where you have to grab your reader's attention and get them coming back for the rest - it needs attention, and quick. Get this kind of thing wrong and it ruins your credibility for everything that follows.

Sweet Home Alabama is *not* the greatest rock song ever written.

I'm not saying it's not a good song - heck, I'll even say it's a great rock song. It gets the crowd going, they all sing along, order another beer and chow down on some ribs. Good times. But the greatest rock song? I'm afraid not. The greatest rock song ever written has to be more than that.

Much, much more.

It has to be For Those About To Rock (We Salute You).

I know most people reading this have already said, "I hear ya, Vince." At the mere mention of the song, they switched over to iTunes, discovered it's not available from the Music Store, grabbed it from a murky part of the Internet using one nefarious piece of software or another, and listened to it five times in a row. If you're one of them, you don't need any convincing. Rock on.

But if you do still need convincing, well, let's get to it.

First, the song is about Rock. How could a great rock song be about anything else? Except that's the beauty of For Those About To Rock. AC/DC has given us a multilayered masterwork, one tune with two - yes, two! - meanings. It's about Rock, sure. But it's also about Sex. Any truly great song is about one of two things: getting some, or not getting any. This song has both. Sure, it's saying, maybe we're not, but if you are, well, that's awesome. You deserve a salute.

Which brings us to the real reason why For Those About To Rock (We Salute You) is truly, beyond all doubt, the greatest rock song of all time.

Now, there are exactly two songs that have cannons in them. I know this for a fact, because I played the cannons in my high school orchestra, and it was not the most exciting instrument to be playing. We'd all go to rehearsal, the other kids carrying their flutes and violins in little cases, and here I am dragging my cast-iron cannon behind me. You thought tuba players had it bad.

I'd get set up, warm up, and the music teacher would say "We have a new song to try today," and my heart would beat faster and faster. And then I'd see the title, and it would turn out to be Mozart or Wagner, or maybe an orchestral version of something by Grand Master Flash and The Furious Five. I'd look at the teacher all puppy dog, wondering when we'd finally get to play the 1812 Overture. She'd say what she always said: "Maybe next time, Vince. Maybe next time." I'd drag the cannon back home, once again heartbroken and wishing I'd picked something cooler like the french horn or maybe the tambourine.

But I got the last laugh, because there's a second song I could play. Sure, it wasn't for the orchestra. But I'd get home, go up to my room, put AC/DC on the record player, prime my cannon, and imagine I was up there on stage with Angus and the rest of the band. I'd wait, anticipating the moment, until Brian would shout "Fire!" And fire I did.

I won't even point out that For Those About To Rock is as equally unhummable as Alabama and works just as well as an example in the introduction - heck, even better, because unlike my local AC/DC cover band, yours probably didn't know a guy with a cannon, so as much as you'd want to you could never do the song live. Cap guns just don't cut it.

It's about Rock. It's about Sex. And say it with me: It has cannons.

And Sweet Home Alabama's got nothing on that.
Vince Tourangeau Send private email
Monday, February 13, 2006

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