“It just works” rules

Me with my Commodore 64

Back in the day, I used to like to tinker with software and set configurations and such. The picture above is me working on my Commodore 64 a long, long time go. Back then, I rocked BASIC. I even wrote a stock portfolio app that I submitted for publication in RUN magazine. (What a kid was doing writing a stock portfolio app… well, I was a dork.)

Now, I just want stuff to work. Out of the box. I don’t want to tinker. I have a life that I want to live and that doesn’t involve searching support forums or calling tech support.

To further that goal, I’m launching a bi-weekly column featuring products and services that just work. The column will run bi-weekly on VentureBeat. (Assuming I can find enough products to feature.)

Here are some high-level guidelines on what I’m looking for:

  • Must be consumer-focused.
  • Hardware, software and Web apps are fine. Bonus points for seamlessly blending all of them.
  • Must be shipping or soon-to-be shipping.
  • Bonus points for elegantly handling network connectivity.
  • Ideally, it makes the complicated simple.
  • An ordinary user can go from unboxing to primary use cases within 10 minutes. (I know I’m not an ordinary user, but I can play one when I’m testing products.)
  • Bonus points for elegant visual design.
  • If it’s a location-based product, I need to be able to use it near my home in San Francisco.

Here are examples of things that are likely to disqualify a product:

  • Requiring users to enter things like hexadecimal codes or entering IP addresses like
  • Burying essential instructions for operation in a thick user manual.
  • Requiring users to install software from a CD and providing no alternatives for downloads.

This isn’t designed to be the traditional product review. It will look closely at great products and what makes them great. It doesn’t mean I won’t criticize the product, but the point is to encourage great products and help designers learn from great designers.

Based on my experience, my sense is that products from companies like Apple, Square and fitbit generally qualify. Products from companies like Cisco (except the dearly departed Flip), Microsoft and Comcast wouldn’t.

Got a product like that? Shoot me a note: redesign@agrawals.org. Please don’t ship stuff to me without an OK — my apartment is tiny.


About Rakesh Agrawal

Rakesh Agrawal is Senior Director of product at Amazon (Audible). Previously, he launched local and mobile products for Microsoft and AOL. He tweets at @rakeshlobster.
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