Business and Artful Ways


I purchased a Trek Madone this past weekend and now, on some level, understand how an iPhone or Prius user feels. It’s like owning a piece of artwork. To put It simply; it feels different. The only difference is that something can be done with this piece of art other than hanging on the wall or sitting on the pedestal.

Art, by definition has absolutely no function, although if done well, it can inspire. Some social objects like the iPhone, Prius and Trek bikes do inspire. This can manifest itself as a desire to develop applications for the iPhone, modify their Prius to get higher mileage or ride further and faster than you ever have before. (The bike also allows me to resolve design issues I face at work by providing an atmosphere of zero noise. Riding is a physical mantra.)

I believe these objects rise above good design. Examples of good design are Blendtec’s blender and the Honda Civic. I’m also sure there are those that are inspired by these social objects and I would argue that these are not artful items. (At least in my opinion.)

As businesses we aspire to create artful experiences/products. When I think of an artful experience I tend to think of a good meal; something that taps deeply into our senses. (Sushi leaps to mind.) The point is that this takes a tremendous amount of commitment and I believe is in opposition to the power of collaboration.

Collaboration is like art the same way a performance piece is, only the audience jumps up on stage with the performers. It is a memorable experience and not sure it’s artful.

It’s hard for me to imagine the iPhone being a very compelling design if the average person were allowed to actively participate in the design. I’ve posted about businesses that can utilize collaboration and realized recently that the service they provide ban be the artful experience while traditional product makers endeavour to create artful objects. Both are difficult and businesses should strive to touch on the opposite end of the spectrum. Business that create artful products should challenge themselves to create artful experiences and vice versa.

For example, when I picked up my Trek, they gave me an owners package. This consisted of a booklet with Lance’s picture on it, a page of replacement stickers and a book of assembly tips. In the owners manual was a CD. I put the CD in and it prompted me to select a language and took me to the Trek web site.

All in all, a very vanilla experience. Would have been much better to simply supply a Trek owners only URL that used the bikes serial number to validate membership. Once logged in it could have provided me video highlights featuring Trek bikes, the latest training tips, expert advice on diet, etc. Could have also allowed me to create my riding centric profile to share with other members; a niche social network. Trek could use this content to feed information other users, therefore making it a more collaborative experience.

This type of artful experience only works if the product itself is beautiful in form and in the experience it provides. This has always been and will always be difficult at best and something that product designers, product managers and marketers need to aim for. We should all strive to be artists.

By Michael Myers