Every product, event, app, service, whatever we have to design for, has something special about it.

At least we have to convince our selves of that. If we can’t see it, how is anyone we’re talking to going to?

But more often than not this talk of what’s special, of this brilliance, gets lost amongst deadlines and budgets, clients and copy.

But this brilliance, this something special, answers why we are doing what we are doing. It answers why the product is being promoted, why people should bother paying attention, why people should hand over their money at whatever URL or button we show them, why it will make their lives better.

“It makes their lives better because …”
“It relieves the suffering of … by …”
“It’s a lot of fun because …”
“It’s better than watching TV because …”
“It means something special because …”
“It helps with …”
“It’s brilliant because …”

If we can’t answer why a product we’re helping promote is brilliant, then how are we going to promote it?

This brilliance matters more than we’re often willing to admit.

It’s what sells products in spite of all the things we say matter. The website could be hard to use, the product ugly, the packaging frustrating to open, worse to discard. But if the product does what it’s meant to do well enough, none of what bothers us as designers bothers the audience.

But it can be hard to understand what makes a product great. It means asking questions and listening to answers, to translating pains had by the audience, by learning more about the client, about why they want to make what they’re making.

It also means getting out of the way. If we figure out what makes something great then the worst thing we can do is muss it up with our clever and fancy design stuff.

Which is a shame because we’re better at doing the fancy design stuff than we are at not doing it. So maybe we sometimes don’t want to know what’s great about a product because it means we’ll have to do less of the work we love. Maybe we’ll have to admit that what we do doesn’t matter as much as we sometimes pretend it does.

The idea of someone walking up to me while I’m working and asking what’s so great about the product I’ve been staring at, sketching grids around, typesetting letters for, commissioning photos of, terrifies me.

Not because it’s a question I don’t know the answer to. But because it’s question I should know the answer to.