I was reading a post at createdigitalmusic.com recently when a new thought occurred to me regarding a possible path to successful products in the digital age. The post quotes Roger Daltry recently bemoaning that mp3’s have killed the album, saying:
“They’ve destroyed the form, as soon’s it went digital. The CD was a confidence trick,” Daltrey said. “It wasn’t just music that people used to buy, it was a total art form. … I think that’s what people like. They like it personal. They like vinyl because if you scratch vinyl, it’ll be scratched, but it’ll be your scratch. It will only be on your record.”
Daltrey takes pride in The Who [Associated Press, via CNN.com]
Reading this, I thought to myself, maybe that’s what made the iPod so successful. It wasn’t the design per se, nor the functions, nor the timing. Rather, it was a conflagration of factors that (perchance by chance) led to the iPod becoming the physical object in which people invest all the personal meaning that used to be placed in physical record albums. As a result, iPod users are often insanely loyal to those little pieces of plastic and metal.
So the question, then, is how can designers use this? I would say that the first step is to identify those trends wherein a physical object that has traditionally been a repository of physical meaning is being replaced with an “object-free” digital alternative (as the record album was). Then, we should look at how we might design a product that can step into and take advantage of the “meaning-gap” that occurs. I’m not sure yet what these opportunities are, but I’ll definitely be keeping my eyes open.