Do we matter?

Vincent Danen

December 03, 2008

A good friend of mine has over the last little while been feeding me some really great books that have made me re-evaluate a lot of things. The first book is "PresentationZen" (ISBN: 978-0-321-52565-9) which gives some really great ideas regarding presentation design and delivery of presentations. While it primarily focuses on design pertaining to things like powerpoint, the "rules" the author talks about (be they rules of design or rules of how humans look at and interact with things) are powerful and applicable to everything, including software design/presentation, or web sites, or anything you look at.

The second book, which I haven't quite finished yet, but which absolutely blew me away, is "Do you matter? How great design will make people love your company" (ISBN: 978-0-13-714244-6). This book is freaking amazing.

Speaking in the context of Mandriva, this is a book every developer, manager, and CEO needs to read. It's no revelation that we're in a bit of a tough spot and I think (although I don't know for sure) that the CEO is seeking to reinvent Mandriva in some way to make us profitable. Nothing wrong with the idea, but the execution may be up for debate. I have no doubt that he can do it (his track record shows he's done it before), but the dynamics are different with this kind of company compared to a traditional company. Which makes the ideas and things brought up in "Do you matter?" especially relevant.

The basic premise is that "design" is the be-all and end-all, and the ultimate indicator of good design is customer experience and, more importantly, customer emotion. So much so that the first goal and focus, above all else, should be the customer experience/emotion. It's no surprise to anyone that without customers, no company can survive. But without happy and satisfied customers, no company can thrive.

To use one of the authors examples, look at Microsoft vs Apple. In Microsoft's case, there is extremely poor design... in all aspects of the company (we're not just talking software here, but the whole "culture" -- everything that brings the customer an experience, whether it's good or bad). The basic consensus of people when they think of Microsoft is like that of the utility company -- they don't really like them, but they need them. Contrast that to Apple where most people love the products, be it the iPod, iPhone, hardware, OS... whatever. Apple takes the design-driven company all the way. From presentations at WWDC, to the box you get your iPod in, to the ease-of-use and look-n-feel of Mac OS X, the customer experience is the first thing in their minds. And this is why they can charge a premium on their stuff, and people will willingly pay it. For the experience the end user gets and the emotions it creates (think warm fuzzies).

You can contrast this to anything. If you had a rotten experience at one hotel, do you go back? Or do you try something that is more expensive and find a great experience there? In the future, do you save a few bucks for a crappy experience, or spend a few more for a great experience? What about the store you buy groceries from? Where you buy coffee? Sure, for some people price rules, but for many people it's all about the experience. If you buy a car, and it's a really great price and turns out to be utter crap, do you buy another car from this company? Or do you spend more to buy a better car, with a better experience? And what is your perception of the first company? That they sell crappy cars, have poor customer service, and you're damn well going to tell everyone you know to avoid them like the plague.

So... bottom line is the customer experience and the emotions that experience generates.

I'll probably blog more about this and break it up into a few pieces, but let me leave you with a few questions asked in the book "Do you matter?"

  • Who are you?
  • What do you do?
  • Do your customers care if you live or die?

These are potent questions.

Who are you? An open source company? How about something deeper than that. An open source company that provides a Linux distribution? Still pretty vague. Who are you really? An open source Linux company that aims to bring the best possible Linux-based desktop experience? That sounds pretty good... but is that who we actually are?

What do you do? Provide a Linux distribution. Not deep enough. Think about it. What do we do? What is the actual end goal?

Do your customers care if you live or die? This is the real question. With the many blog posts, articles, forum threads, and so forth I have to say that yes, our customers/users care. Would their lives diminish somewhat if we weren't around? I'd like to think that yes, it would. But would it really? There's always Ubuntu. Always Fedora. I hear OpenSUSE is pretty decent. What distinguishes us from them to the point that there would be the equivalent of an online "riot" if Mandriva all of a sudden disappeared?

I don't have the answers to these questions. I do know that we used to have pretty clear goals and really strove to meet them. And we also had a massive community then too. Extremely active mailing lists, you name it... Mandrake was the distro. And somehow, somewhere, we lost our way. Maybe we lost our focus on the customer experience. I don't know. I do know that it can be turned around... it's not too late. I think one solution is to become a design-driven company and put the user experience first and foremost, above everything else. And then design our technology, methodology, philosophy, business practices, etc. around it. It wouldn't be easy, but it could work.

For anyone running a company, or starting a company, or even anyone involved in any kind of organization or community, I highly recommend reading "Do you matter?". It provides insight into things I never before thought of and answers the one nagging question I've had for years: Why is Ubuntu so popular when it's technologically inferior? I don't mean to start a flamewar or anything here, but the tools Mandriva has blow away anything Ubuntu has. I've tried it, and didn't like it (possibly because I'm jaded by too much Mandriva exposure, who knows). But that doesn't change the fact that Ubuntu has had such wild success that to many people Linux == Ubuntu.

Makes you wonder... there are a number of tissue-creating companies out there... Scotties, Kleenex, the no-name brands you find at the grocery store. Yet what is a tissue commonly called, without even thinking? Kleenex.

I'll leave that for you to chew on.

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