I was on vacation last week, and just got home. But sadly I brought sickness with me.
I had a long talk with a friend (ben) while I was gone that started with the same old question about the “value of software” but soon moved to value in general.
We were at the “The Art of Shaving” store looking at finely designed razors when I asked the saleswoman if I could take a closer look at a razor they had showcased behind glass. I was expecting it to be light aluminum (the finish seemed to be) but was delighted to feel the weight of steel.
So as Ben and I talked while walking around in search for ice cream and creps, and I mentioned this razor we had seen earlier that day. I was telling him how I was in search of weight in software, (You know, that extra sensory-nudge that adds value to the product) when ben moved it away from software completely. Ben had me take a step back and unknowingly ask myself “why is it that the weight gives the razor value?”. He then went on about how value is only in the eye of the beholder, and is only in the context of your life. The things you associate with value give an item value. But the item itself has no real value on its own. Things you don’t know, have no value to you, and so on.
So the perception of value, right? The razor felt more valuable because it was heavy. But weight is no more valuable than color, unless through society we associate it with value.
So my wedding ring. I looked at a lot of rings before I decided on one. What I got was a very inexpensive tungsten carbide steel band. To me it had 3 things I was looking for. The color, shine, and hardness. I didn’t want it getting scratched, and I really like the color/look of polished steel. But the cost of it compared to any other metal used is nothing. If I got anything else, it wouldn’t have met the goal of the ring. But it lacks one thing needed to give it a higher price, right? Of course I speak of rarity. Platinum and gold are much rarer, and therefore have higher value, even though they scratch easily, and so on.
But what about palladium? Palladium is a precious metal 30 times rarer than gold. It shines and looks similar to platinum, but is less than a third of the cost of gold. So what we have is something that on paper should be of a much higher value, but isn’t because people don’t see the value in it as they do gold. This is known by Dan Ariely as “The Fallacy of Supply and Demand”
Granted, the weight of the razor played to my memories of weight equating quality, but this is very rarely actually the case, and if we look in the consumer electronics area, it is often is the complete opposite.
I think what happens is that we build personal dictionaries of overly simple ways of determining value in the objects we interact with. It allows us to make decisions about what we want without spending too much time hashing over it. And even though these dictionaries are ofter wrong, and many parts are actually dictated by society, we knowing accept this because it beats spending a week to make each decision. I know that steel is inexpensive, but I still get the feeling of quality.
We as designers use these commonalities about the perception of value all the time when working in the physical world. They help us craft better experiences for our users. So may the problem is just that software is too new, and our dictionaries are just empty.
Then the question becomes: How do we help build the perception of value around software?