Over here in Europe, we get a fair number of American TV series, but not all of them. Recently, a friend passed me a complete set of all the existing episodes of Firefly which I’ve been enjoying immensely. I’d not heard of it before, but I understand that it has become something of a cult series in the U.S. and I understand why.
It has something in common with a series that has had vastly greater success, in the U.S. and abroad: NCIS.
I’m not sure why one series failed and the other succeeded, but what ties them both together, and makes them both so appealing, is the sense of dysfunctional but united family.
In both series, characters seem to be constantly at each others’ throats, but when push comes to shove, they’ve got each others’ backs, and they love each other, and wouldn’t know how to live without each other. We identify with them easily.
I’m not sure if this is a phenomenon for this time in history, or if it’s universal, but it certainly speaks to us in this uncertain, crazy age full of simultaneous anxiety and opportunity.
Finally, what is a family – dysfunctional or not? It’s a special case of a community. We seem to need them – after all, we congregate in cities, and though we complain about the noise, the pollution, the long commutes to work, the cost of living, etc. – most of us are not ready to quit the city for a bucolic but unconnected existence in the countryside, even if we can telework from home.
When it comes to product design and conception, though, we forget all that and think that some person – a product manager, interaction designer, developer, or specialist – will spring forth a great product out of his or her singular brain, as Athena did from the forehead of Zeus.
I’m on a roll with classical analogies, so – let’s put an end to this hubris, and realise that we need integrated communities, that include developers, marketers, content workers, product managers, designers of all types, and – gasp – users, working as equal stakeholders to define new products, or evolutions of existing products. In the end, someone is going to make a decision – it’s not a democracy. But shouldn’t that decision be informed by the collective wisdom of everyone who has a stake in the success of the product, and its ability to delight customers? If not, what are we in this for?
I’m not talking here about “crowd sourcing” – which is often an excuse to throw responsibility for content development to our customers, and abdicate from it ourselves. I’m talking about real, integrated communities, in which we see our user/customers as allies, assets, members of our family, however dysfunctional it may be – people whose backs we want to guard – and who will have our backs as we build their loyalty.
That’s how we’ll end up with great products that help people do what they need to do.