What Steve Jobs taught Learning Pool about whimsy

whimsical bird and flowers

Whilst reading some of the many articles and comments that have been written about Steve Jobs this past week I was reminded about a conversation we had at Pool Heights one time about Apple’s famous product development.

We were talking about the user experience of software we know and love and got to talking about the Apple bounce.

If you own or use any Apple product you’re probably familiar with the Apple bounce, even if you don’t realise it.  It’s the way the cursor bounces back up just a little bit when you reach the end of the scroll while viewing your emails or when you come to the bottom of a web page or whatever.

How interesting the conversation must have been, we mused, when Jobs and his team discussed the design of this bounce.  How hard or soft should the bounce be?  When should it be used?  How could the designers ensure that the bounce was subtle enough not to take over but whimsical enought to be, well, whimsy?

We imagined countless returns to the drawing board by software designers who hadn’t got it just quite right.

And how hard it must have been to convince the Finance department of the commercial benefits of this whimsy, this fastidious attention to detail that is, it now turns out, so completely Apple.

But then, maybe there wouldn’t have been much convincing to be done in an organisation that has attention to detail and excellence wired into it’s DNA.  An organisation who, it is said, purposefully designs new enhancements and features, knowing that it will discard 90% of the work done.

There are not many companies who are like Apple or perhaps, can be like Apple.  But maybe every product designer should look to add their own bit of whimsy to what they produce.

Of course, this is not as easy as it might sound, not least because the boundary between whimsy and brand character is a very blurred one.

So, what makes good whimsy?

First of all, a definition.  Whimsy is: 

  1. a capricious idea or notion
  2. light or fanciful humour
  3. something quaint or unusual

Whimsy is all about the user experience.  It creates an emotional connection that can only be made where there is an intimacy between the user and the product.  After all, whimsy is a purely subjective thing. 

Learning Pool has a lot of quirkiness that is part of it’s brand character.  Our Peggy Pig and her escapades, Mary’s hug tally as her way of grading a good or not so good week, our Twitter hashtag #teamlovely and our equally bonkers customers who will dress up at our behest to raise money for charity.

All of this is brand defining but not necessarily whimsy.

We’re still working on that.

So, tell me, what’s your favourite bit of product whimsy?  Is there anything whimsical that makes you warm to a product or service you use?

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About Janet Harkin

A freelance marketing consultant currently working on some interesting projects. From Cumbria but live in Donegal, NW Ireland - both equally beautiful parts of the world. I love being busy, my boys, fresh air and Led Zeppelin. I also like marketing - the strategic challenges as well as the of-the-moment campaigns.
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2 Responses to What Steve Jobs taught Learning Pool about whimsy

  1. To have design and delight as your core values for a megacorporation is, in itself, ana making achievement. I do not believe that decisions on this sort of thing ever reached the finance department at Apple. That’s just not the way the company works. Can you imagine the fate of an accountant who vetoes a few extra days of working on designs at a company like Apple? I hear Steve Jobs kept a scythe in his office to deal with such interlopers.

    You hire good people to do their jobs, to take pride and delight in their work and in the work of their colleagues. A good designer will iterate faster through bad designs, produce some really good designs and maybe a couple of great designs. A bad designer will usually settle on the first good design (and an open source programmer will settle on the first, good or bad). Steve said Apple was most proud of the stuff where they said “No”. After all, they used to make printers, televisions and digital cameras. But instead they focus on a tight product set with an even tighter feature set.

    The end goal, I believe, is to delight the customer.

  2. Janet Harkin says:

    Hi Matt

    Thanks for your comment, I think you’re right. Without the right people on the bus and in the right place on the bus none of the good stuff is possible.

    And it is very, very hard to say no.

    Not so sure about your comment abour Open Source designers though. We’ve some pretty good designers and coders at Learning Pool and open source is our thing. Why do you say that? Bad experience?

    Janet

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