Products are people too – Matt Webb

“anything I say I get a hundred times back in ideas and conversations.”

areas that have affected Webb a lot in the past n years:

social software, adaptive design, engaging technology.

Social software

In the excitement of making web applications, we’d forgotten that people aren’t computers.

Emerging market phone handsets

Adaptive design

Engaging technology

Perturbation thoery

But maybe we can’t treat these design solutions as minor perturbations; maybe they’re so big they need to be built in to begin with.

It might be important a consumer believes they know how a thing works, even if they don’t, even if it does way more.

Experience design

Instead of design, design for the story you tell with the product – the experience hooks. The first time you see a thing, the first time you turn it on, the first time you show it off to friends/ family.

Maybe B&H are not selling nicotine, but encounters with strangers and conversations with friends, which is a product I’d buy.

Products are not our servants, nor we theirs

Products are people too

We shouldn’t make intelligent agents or put faces on them. It’s just better to assume that products have wills and act in the world than to assume they don’t.

  1. As users, we already treat products as social actors, and buy other products that fit in with them – it’s only as designers we’re negligent. We’ll end up designing products we’ll get on with as users, better.
  2. We can use human approaches to solve this problems.

So now we just need to answer the question: what makes something a person? And we can apply that to people or products.

The question of “what makes people people” is crazy complicated! So many possible answers! [cf Human Universals, in my delicious stream]

Matt’s favourite universals include:

So I spoke to the I Ching.

Things people do:



Calvino, reaching up to a low-passing moon, propping up a ladder to go onto the moon to gather moon-milk [Calvino, Cosmicomics]


Tidying up

This is Matt’s familiar sport-as-tidying-up-metaphor; football, snooker

Tennis is two people disagreeing about who touched it last: you tidy up! No, you tidy up!


People-watching is its own reward.