Alex Steer

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Products: be amazing or be unfinished

335 words

Like others, I was sad to hear the news that Berg is shutting its doors. For as many years as I've been idly following their progress, the London-based data and product design studio have been making interesting and beautiful connected objects and experimenting with data in interesting ways.

I don't know the situation at Berg, but their final blog post struck a chord:

We've not reached a sustainable business in connected products. But... I'm proud of this British Experimental Rocket Group.

It's very difficult to make digital products work, sell and sustain. There's a very large graveyard of failed projects, because most are less useful than their inventors think. It's hardest of all to make those that are elegant, beautiful and a delight to use. The upfront effort - the sheer volume of educated guesswork you have to do - to produce something that is beautiful at its first version is almost impossible. It's why the world is littered with ugly, unrewarding software.

Being amazing is hard, and Berg tried to be amazing. The alternative, though, is not necessarily to be mediocre. There's a third option - it's to be deliberately, openly unfinished. Build products gradually, and involve the people that you want to use them regularly, and what you lose in awe you will gain in forgiveness and acceptance. Involve people who are good at design, to make sure you continue removing everything superfluous while you grow and change, and you may even end up with something that generates both amazement and love.

It's difficult to avoid the temptation to busy away behind the scenes, and launch with a flourish and a ta-dah. But most ta-dahs are damp squibs. The chances of you being amazing first time round are almost zero, so work in a way that lets you keep talking to people, make corrections, and get better in public. If the British Government can do it, you've no excuse.

# Alex Steer (10/01/2015)