Earlier this week, David Heinemeier Hansson wrote a bit about why he thinks indulging in aesthetically pleasing tools should be a guilt-free experience. It was a response to a post by Matt Maroon on News.YC and if you’re interested, you should also check out Matt’s counter-response. Hoping to add to the discussion with our own flavors, we thought we’d point out some other reasons why you shouldn’t discount the role of aesthetics when deciding on what tools you should get.

Gavan Fitzsimons and Tanya Chartrand, professors of psychology and marketing at Duke University, did some research on the topic by subliminally priming over 300 subjects with either an Apple or IBM logo. They were then given a brick and asked to come up with as many uses for the brick as they could. The results of the study revealed that brands and our environment influence our thoughts quite a bit. Apparently, the subjects exposed to the Apple logo “generated significantly more unusual uses for the brick compared with those who were primed with the IBM logo.” You can watch the researchers talk about the study in the following video:

While Fitzsimons has focused some of his conclusions toward the marketing departments behind these brands, it’s more interesting for us to know that the personality of a company can influence and filter down to users by logo alone. And so the argument can be made that purchasing tools that are aesthetically pleasing and innovatively designed by companies with similar attributes can help inspire our subconscious to also want to create aesthetically pleasing and innovative software.

Here’s some anecdotal data that will help emphasize the point. J.J. Abrams, one of the creators of Lost, gave a talk at TED about why he’s so interested in the power of mysteries. A little after the 8th minute, he presents exactly why he uses Apple’s products when he writes:

I love Apple computers. I’m obsessed. So the Apple computer. The powerbook. It challenges me. It basically says, “What are you going to write worthy of me?” I can feel this. I’m compelled. And often I’m like dude, today I’m out. I got nothing.

J.J. Abrams - Mystery Box

Chris has written about this before in an article about the role of design in businesses, but the Japanese believe that all products should strive to have this inspirational quality in their work. In order to have a quality product or service, it needs to be created in a way that satisfies two different ideas of quality:

The first, atarimae hinshitsu, which is roughly translated as “taken-for-granted quality,” is the idea that things will work as they are intended. The second, miryokuteki hinshitsu, which means “enchanting quality,” is the idea that things should have an aesthetic quality that appeals to a person’s sense of beauty.

And if you’ve ever picked up a katana—a Japanese sword of the finest craftsmanship, then you’ll know exactly how this manifests. The thing to take away from this, of course, is not that Japanese products or Apple computers are the only things to use if you’re going to be innovative. It’s that context and environment matters in ways that people sometimes don’t even realize. Because humans are relationship-making creatures, we are emotionally influenced by the things we encounter over and over again and tools obviously fall into that category. And so, maybe, the choices we make regarding our tools shouldn’t come down to price alone. And maybe, as the developers of tools, we should strive to make products that inspire others with equal passion and energy.

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Alex Vazquez

Reasons to Use Inspiring Tools and Brands by Alex Vazquez

This entry was posted 2 years ago and was filed under Notebooks.
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  1. paul Lopes · 2 years ago

    I find wufoo (particularly the new help docs site) inspiring and often look at it to get ideas.

  2. Corey · 2 years ago

    Your last sentence is particularly important, I think. Creating products with the intent to inspire implies a degree of GIVING, not just of trying to make money. An inspirational product is a gift to the world, one that lifts spirits and makes the world a better place, as opposed to just convincing a buyer to part with their money.

    At my company we’re devoted to making life easier for small business owners, inspiring them to grow their businesses and realise their dreams. The revenue just comes from actually helping people — and when you inspire people, you create a passion that is a better foundation for business growth than any marketing plan.

    But you have to be authentic about it, because only genuine inspiration will create that reaction.

    Also, katana ROCK.

  3. Kevin Singarayar · 2 years ago

    I love your point about the Japanese. Aesthetics to the Japanese is definitely an archetype of quality and maybe even more so, of soul.

    I remember reading an interview with G. Clotaire Rapaille, where he narrated an incident which occurred when he was working at AT&T. Apparently Nippon Telegraph and Telephone in Japan had ordered some cables from AT&T and when the cables had arrived, the Japanese rejected them. Though AT&T had met their specifications, the reason given by the Japanese for rejecting them was that the cables were ugly! What’s more confounding is that these cables were to be buried underground, completely hidden from sight. To the Japanese obviously, that was irrelevant.

  4. Kevin Hale · 2 years ago

    Hey Kevin, that’s a great story about the Japanese cables. Thank you so much for sharing that.

  5. HugBuddy · 2 years ago

    Everyone needs a hug.