I never thought learning how to write better might help me understand product design but it has. Great literature and well designed products share one defining attribute: they create a telepathic connection between the creator and the consumer.
Before you chuckle and write me off as a palm reading gypsy, hear me out. The idea isn’t mine, but Stephen King’s. Over the weekend, I read King’s blunt and inspirational autobiographical narrative, “On Writing.” In this book, Stephen King accomplishes two things. First, he tells the story of his struggles to become a successful author. Second, he explains all the tools he used to accomplish his goal.
In quite a few ways Stephen King’s path to literary success parallels many entrepreneurs. His journey consisted of a modest upbringing, a supportive parent and encouraging mentors, and an unbridled work ethic and passion to pursue his talent which led ultimately to many best sellers and critical acclaim.
While King’s story is impressive, his description of writing is more compelling. At the heart of writing, King writes, is telepathy. The best writing conveys the thoughts of the author precisely to the reader who may be thousands of miles away or living a decade later. Despite their separation, both minds see the same images.
Great products evoke the same telepathy. The first time I used a Mac and it “just worked,” I felt a connection. The product designer had suffered the same software frustrations as I had, and solved the problem in a way that made sense to both of us, and millions more.
Well designed products feel human because empathy underpins their design. Like works of literature, great products create a link between a product designer and a user. The product designer has an idea, an image, of how to solve a problem and the user, faced with the product, understands immediately the designer’s mind set and solution.
The simple elegance of timeless writing and skillful product design are one in the same. They are the embodiment of a connection between author and reader/designer and user.