Product Lessons from music gigs

I was at Oh Land's gig in Munich last night, and there were a few things I was reminded of from the warmup act.

I love going to music gigs. (I don't know many people who don't.) I love going to see a musician I've just come across, like Oh Land, who I discovered because I love her theme song for Rita (one of my favourite shows on Netflix). I also love finding new, interesting acts - like Luisa, who was the support act last night.

Luisa has a husky, powerful voice. Her music has some great themes, and she's got a few really great songs. I'll be keeping an ear out for her.

There were two things that stuck out from her set, though.

I assume because she's plugging along as an artist, she doesn't have the funds for a solid costume and makeup team. I say this, because the first thing that stuck out was her lipstick. It was a few shades too red for her skin tone, and contrasted strongly from her otherwise great look.

(Quick digression: I doubt that I would be commenting on a male artist's appearance in the same way. There's a whole other set of conversations in the background here about how we are socialised to judge women's appearances that I won't get into but acknowledge).

Now I say this, because I've been thinking a lot about the look and feel of the product I manage. It was interesting to me that I noticed her lipstick at all, but it was briefly distracting in the way it didn't match the rest of her look. I spend a lot of time talking in my team about how the look of our product is the cherry on top once we get the rest of the usability in a workable manner, but it's true that we - as a visual culture - tend to judge books by their covers. As a performer, there's a visual aspect to Luisa's performance, no matter how small it is (or should be) compared to her music. Similarly, as a software product manager, there's a requirement to at least ensure there's a continuity to the look of our product. Even if it's not perfect, there shouldn't be any visual elements that stick out from the others in an incongruous manner.

The second part, however, was something that gave me real pause for thought. Luisa has one of those sampling instruments that lets musicians record tracks as they perform, then play them back as they perform. It's one of those great inventions that I've noticed in the last few years and when done well, it can really add to the performance. It did for hers too, for the most part, but at a few times, she layered so many tracks at the same time, I couldn't hear her singing over the wall of noise.

It made me wonder if this sampling instrument is a new toy that she's testing out. There's a parallel here in product development - we all know the team that finds a new technology that they love and try to insert into everything. The danger is something like that story of the tradesman who only has a hammer. Suddenly everything looks like a nail, you get lost in the hammering and lose sight of what you set out to do. Play with new technologies, by all means, but learn when they are useful and when they are a distraction from the main show.

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