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The Power of the Ordinary in Product Design

by Emerson Taymor

The Power of the Ordinary in Product Design

Sep 22, 2015

I remember seeing Michelangelo’s David when I was 5 years old in Florence. I’m eternally grateful for the opportunities I’ve had in my life and support of the arts is near the top of that list. My passion for the arts is what got me into the digital world. My first website was a UGC site for movie reviews (people had to email in their reviews, as this was before the days of Web 2.0). My second website was to showcase a series of my photographs.

While it is obvious to link the arts and digital product development with respect to user interface design, I believe things get more intriguing behind the scenes.

William Eggleston is a fantastic photographer, but he does not shoot exquisite landscapes or well lit portraits. He shoots the ordinary: the freezer; the diner or the gas station. But to many, myself included, these photographs are beautiful. His prints fetch six and seven figures each.

Assorted Eggleston prints

How does this relate to digital products?

We often get so caught up in the need for digital products to be gorgeous, pixel perfect designs. Or we think our ideas need to be so complex that they are impossible to replicate. If you critique Google or Facebook’s early page layouts you likely would describe them as ordinary at best.

An early version of the first Google homepage from circa 2006 and Facebook (then TheFacebook) from 2004.

And not only were the designs rudimentary, their foundational concepts, were anything but revolutionary. Google was a late debutante to the search party. Facebook was yet another social network. What about Uber? At the time you could already hail a cab on the street or call the cab company to pick you up.

These ordinary ideas or designs often turn out to be the biggest. Often they have a unique angle- in Eggleston’s case he pushed for the use of color photography into a respectable art form. At the time color photography already existed, just like search engines and social networks had for Google and Facebook. The timing and the unique flavor that Eggleston, Google and Facebook brought to the table maximized their success. And most importantly, they took the core of their idea and did it exceptionally well. They thought through the nuances of the product or the scene and they nailed it.

So stop worrying so much. Focus on things that people need and improving their lives. These things can look ordinary, they can act ordinary, but when deeply done right, that’s what makes them extraordinary.

I’d love to hear where or how you find beauty in the ordinary.

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Emerson Taymor is Philosophie's Cofounder and CRO. Emerson is passionate about working with clients to eliminate waste from enterprise software. Outside of work, he loves to travel and is an avid sports fan.

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