Design a product that turns weaknesses into strengths

Some products merely try and make experiences more convenient for their users. But I think the great ones, the ones that really capture people’s attention, make their users strong where they were once weak.

Instagram is an obvious and often mentioned example. People suck at taking photos. Instagram turns everyone into at least as good as a photographer as the kid at the theme park taking your picture in those retro photos where everyone looks like they’re from the 1800s.

Another weakness most of us have is how terrible we are at spelling.

Git, something software professionals use to manage version control, attempts to aleviate how bad I am at spelling.

git chckout

git: ‘chckout’ is not a git command. See ‘git –help’.

Did you mean this?

This is just a convenience of git. But look at how well Google has turned a weakness of mine into an absolute strength. Auto correcting people’s searches is one of Google’s very early innovations that I think really sealed the deal in turning Google into the goto search engine.

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In the example above, I misspelled “mahamed ali”, but Google is so familiar with this misspelling, it knew exactly who I intended to search for and showed that search instead.

In fact, now that I know Google will usually find the right results of what I’m looking for regardless of my atrocious spelling, it allows me to search things with even greater speed than folks who are concerned with spelling things correctly in the first place.

I can just go up to a search box and regurgitate the first word that comes to mind, typed as fast as my fingers can. Often that results in some kind of typo, even if I knew the correct spelling. But I can save at least half a second over someone who might sit there quickly pondering: is mahamed spelled with an “mo”.

My weakness makes me stronger than those who don’t even have the weakness. That’s an insanely powerful place to be if you make a product.

A more recent example of a product that is really nailing this ability to turn a weakness of mine into a strength is Sublime Text 2. It’s a text editor. It’s something you might use every day, all day, if you write software.

A recent opportunity encouraged me to install a trial of Sublime to see what the hype was about. In many ways it’s a lot like a couple other popular editors. But there’s a feature that makes Sublime very powerful to me in a way others haven’t.

Hitting Shift + Cmnd + P allows me to launch any command I want to.

And in a similar vein to Google’s auto correct, I don’t even need to fully spell to drive this feature.

Screen Shot 2012-07-17 at 8.20.58 AM.png

That’s an example of me looking to close all my open Sublime files. All I got out was “clo” and it helps figure out I was looking for “CLOse all”.

It let’s me accomplish things faster than I would have if I sat there spelling out all the letters to Close All. A tiny amount of time saved for a single command. But as someone who writes and write and writes in a text editor all day, all that saved time is super valuable to me.

Now if I were the creator of Sublime, I might give a real strong try to seeing if I could predict that “Cloes Al” also actually means “Close All”.

So if you are designing a product or looking for inspiration in designing a product, look for weaknesses people have that you might leverage into an actual strength. Look for ways not to just work around my weakness, but turn my sloppiness or laziness or whatever else hinders me, into something that actually makes me incredibly strong.

P.S. I’ve been working on a secret project that attempts to turn ways in which we procrastinate into a strength. If you want to give it a try soon, follow me on Twitter: here.


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