Two types of product quality; are they both necessary?

Edited excerpt from The Tyranny of the Minimum Viable Product by Jon H. Pittman:

In his 1974 classic of philosophical fiction, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Robert Pirsig describes two kinds of quality:

1. Classic quality — based on rational analysis, decomposition into parts and their relationships, concerned with details, inner workings, and mechanics.

2. Romantic quality — understanding the overall gestalt or feel, looking at the whole rather than the parts, relating to context, emotion, and being in the moment.

Although this is a gross over-generalization, engineers and business people tend to be educated to think about classic quality and classic quality is the mental model they apply to their work. Designers and artists tend to live more in the realm of romantic quality and that is the mental model they apply to their work.

What we often refer to as the “user experience” is the intersection of classic and romantic quality. If we overweight classic quality at the expense of romantic quality, we end up with a poor user experience.

(1) As a devotee of the Job To Be Done framework, I’m not sure how to think about this. The best product is the one which enables me to get my “job” done most efficiently and pleasurably. Perhaps “classic quality” = efficiently, and “romantic quality” = pleasurably?
(2) Enabling people to get their job done efficiently is usually enough. (Think Craig’s List.) However, if you want your customers to love your product, is “romantic quality” necessary?
(3) Cf. (i) Don’t be satisfied with sales, seek love, and (ii) Is your product liked or loved? Here’s how to tell.

2 thoughts on “Two types of product quality; are they both necessary?

  1. Good one – very thought provoking. In creating native ad products, I’m often at a similar crossroads in building products for both users and advertisers. I find classic quality more important for our users, and therefore the job to be done framework is a great tool. For whatever reason, I find advertisers value romantic quality more, and since so much of my success revolves around making the sale, I put a lot more focus on romantic quality than I normally would.

    Perhaps romantic quality is more important to “getting the sale” (i.e. marketing/new user acquisition), while classic quality is more important to ultimate user satisfaction/retention. Apple set itself apart with a fanatical focus on romantic quality (although they also have great classic quality). I bought a Dell mp3 player 15 years ago instead of an iPod and found it had all the functionality I needed. But Apple crushed Dell (and many others) not because they had better classic quality, but because they focused on romantic quality, which built an unstoppable marketing engine.

    Apple marketed “why” ( We want you to love your devices, instead of what: We have a device that lets you bring a library of music with you on the go. I think a product focus on classic quality lends itself more to “what” marketing, while a product focus on romantic quality lends itself more to “why” marketing.

    Of course, if Apple’s products had poor classic quality, then even the best marketing campaign in the world wouldn’t save them, as customers would not retain and tell their friends/family not to buy iPods.

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