Here at Substantial we strive to create Product Magic. You might want to dismiss that as just some empty marketing term, but the funny thing is that you see Product Magic all the time. Sometimes a product experience is "just right." That’s Product Magic, and it requires a lot of different pieces (engineering, design, usability, materials) to come together and make something that’s just…special. It’s more than just being great, it’s going beyond that to the level of the extraordinary.
So where does that come from? That’s the thing: There isn’t any strict formula for how to create Product Magic. Like innovation, it’s hard to inspire but we believe that even if you can’t create it on demand, you can at least improve your chances of getting there. Sometimes you can nail it on the first try, but it's more likely there's a combination of planning, prototyping, testing, and iterating behind an instance of Product Magic. Rome wasn't built in a day, and Product Magic is a bit more involved than pulling a rabbit out of a hat.
Much like the relationship between design and user experience, Product Magic is a melding of engineering and art. There's the binary interpretation of "Does this work?" which is easy to determine - it either does or it doesn't. What's harder to articulate is "How does this feel?" How do you know when something feels right? Often you don't know it until you see it, which makes it hard to account for in a spreadsheet.
It sounds like dodging the question to say that Product Magic is an intangible thing that you only recognize when you experience it, but those are the breaks. It also means different things in every case, making it even harder to pin down. However, there's the potential for greatness in every product, whether it's a web application or a kitchen appliance, even if it is often never realized (by either a lack of perceived need or real world constraints).
So Product Magic is an intangible product ideal that is always the goal but only occasionally realized? Exactly. It doesn't have the same predictability as engineering. It's not as free-form as art either. It's simultaneously both of those things and neither. And when the two combine just right, they become more than the sum of their parts. Anyone can create a product. But making your way to Product Magic is something a lot more rare...that's what makes it magic.
Photo by Amagill.