Purity of Purpose

11th March 2024
5 min read

Arun Venkatesan talked in his newsletter a few months ago about purity of purpose. In his piece, he reflected inwardly about times when he'd strayed from his chosen path, and how he in one instance he had paid for it with his health. He then reflects outwardly and gives Spotify a good lambasting for not being what it once was.

I'm always up for giving platform giants a good lambasting.

But Arun's words strike a chord with me. Purity of purpose is an attitude I am passionate about. Both in design and more broadly in life. Everywhere you look the products we use, both digital and physical, are crappier than ever because they've lost the part that made them good in the first place.

Last year I wrote an article about how, in a world of cheap commoditised goods, we can compete on things other than price. Societal shift aside, the premise is we as designers need to be instrumental in making really, really good products that are worth the [relatively] steep asking price.

Part of that is through a keen focus on purpose.

Feature Creep

In Arun's article, he lamented Spotify's loss of purpose. What made it an attractive proposition over his iPod, slowly gave way to a confusing array of recommendations, podcasts, audiobooks, and an unstable Mac experience.

I've had my own similar experience with Adobe Illustrator. As I've mentioned in the past, I use Affinity Designer day to day, but my son has access to Adobe CC through his school. A couple of times in the last week I've tried to give him a hand to do a few basic tasks. After all, I used to be a pretty gun Illustrator driver. Unfortunately Illustrator these days is hot garbage. Slow and bloated, and constantly trying to push it's suggested tools and AI whatevers.

Illustrator, as with Spotify, has lost it's purpose.

This is usually called "feature creep", and is a fairly predictable course for most products that spend enough time on the market. Feature creep is largely an attempt to drive new sales, repeat sales, maximise customer lifetime value (CLV) (and ultimately increase shareholder value). It is especially predictable for anything with a screen and a microprocessor. And even more so again if it's purely a software product. It almost always comes at a cost of what brought those customers in in the first place.

Fortunately, it's much less prevalent in physical products due to the much higher capital and time costs required to implement and update a product. That's not to say it doesn't happen though. Just look at how that same iPod started, compared to how it ended.

Just because you can, doesn't mean you should.

Purity of Purpose in Design

Having a clear purpose in your project is foundational to the success of you product.

And sticking to it will ensure its continued success.

A purity of purpose will ensure that your product does the one thing it was purchased to do astoundingly well. Not a few things nobody needs it to do not very well.

This has further importance when trying to produce things locally. Features add cost, and cost to produce will add up quickly. While it might be possible to pitch the premium* angle for locally made goods, there's often (but not always) a limit. And it's going to be a very tough sell if your product doesn't perform as the purchase price commands.

*It's worth pointing out that premium doesn't mean luxury. Paraphrased from this Acquired podcast: Premium products are where the customer is willing to pay more for more/better features and performance. Luxury products are where the customer is willing to pay more despite the lack of better features or performance.

It's why having an Intended Use and succinct set of User Needs makes for an excellent North Star throughout medical device development. Even when development doesn't go to plan or requirements conflict.

The Intended Use is that unwavering clarity that should guide decision making during design. Every design decision should be made to further that objective, and tell you just as often when to leaves things out as much as when to put features in.

The Intended Use is the one thing your product should do to the best of its ability.

None of this is to say that purpose can't change.

Change is of course the only constant.

Especially medtech design, pivoting the product offering based on new information and developments is often a smart tactic. And change because of an increase in clarity of purpose will serve customers better, and in turn serve your business better.

Purity of Purpose in Life

The same purity of purpose mindset extends to life in general too. We're so busy, so distracted, and fill our lives up so many activities, that we never really do any of them really well. Never really live them all. Just get them over with and move on to the next thing.

Further, we're constantly pressured to spend, buy new, upgrade, and replace the products we have with new ones. We not only fill our lives with activities, but fill them with products. We have kayaks we've only used twice. And dozens of Stanley cups we'll never use at all.

With clarity you can take a critical eye to what's going on around you and trim out the bloat.

A large part of this of course comes down to finding your passion. Your Ikigai. When you know what's important, you also know what's noise and can begin to filter it out.

Purpose of Purity of Purpose

In design, those products with purity of purpose are talked about and sought after long after they're obsolete. Just like the original iPod, we yearn for those better products. And yet nobody noticed when the 7th gen iPod touch disappeared.

In life, those that have found purity in purpose are the ones we talk about long after their death.

ⓒ Lincoln Black 2024

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