A wild thought journey from remixes to product design.
With pit stops at psychology central and the wilderness. 🐵
You know how having the house to yourself equates to wine, takeout, music, and dancing in your underwear?
One spring sundown, I wandered about in an empty house sipping my peach-flavoured Soju, scrolling on Uber Eats to find arepas, and enjoying the nothingness that awaited me that eve. Excited that arepas were on their way, I felt the desire to boogie, and so called out to Alexa, “ Hey Alexa, play Layla by Eric Clapton”. I was almost holding my breath for those familiar guitar tunes to begin and blitz me into dance, and they did. I began swaying as the music ensued but something made me stop in my tracks. The song was quite not what I was expecting to hear.
And then I realised, it was the dreaded remix. Gasp! Like spectral sounds on a fateful night, the distorted rhythms wafted through the air. My eve alone was crumbling. How can I salvage the rest of my lonesome time?
Okay, I hear you, perhaps a tad too dramatic. But I really don’t like remixes. And I was curious about my hostility to what the music industry heralds as reinvention or experimentation ( within copyright laws ).
As a product designer, that is literally what I do. I experiment with new ways to solve problems and reinvent the wheel with new features or processes. So why is my love lost for remixes?
Turns out psychology has the answer. In a paper published in the journal of consumer psychology, researchers from universities in Belgium and Netherlands discuss how people like stimuli they were first exposed to better than stimuli encountered later, even if they were similar. In other common person words, we tend to like original songs that we first heard over cover songs that came after, even if both songs were equally good. We value authenticity and originality.
Well, sure that makes sense. We’re more familiar with the version we heard first, and familiarity sometimes trumps newness. As a species, we don’t take to change very easily. Of course, there are outliers to this, monkeys, and the ones who like remixes. Wait a minute. Monkeys?
Monkeys have been found to be more cognitively flexible than we are, so naturally, they feel comfortable frolicking to remixes on tree tops. But the majority of us humans tend to face change with some level of resistance. Remixes feel like a big unwelcome shift, especially when you’re both familiar with and fond of the original. I’m not saying the majority of us despise remixes, but they are an example of our impedance to change.
We see this everywhere. Recall that tense feeling when Hollywood has announced they’re making your favourite book into a movie? You find yourself beseeching every deity that they don’t ruin the wonderful, complex story.
So I brought this idea of change to my musings about design and realised this isn’t a new concept to designers. We always design change. We instinctively think of human psychology when we create. We understand that people have varied preferences and short attention spans, and we embrace human quirks in what we design. We try to minimise distractions, present few choices, and in all, make things efficient. And if you think about it, the crux of a lot of things we design, small or big, is to nudge users to move on from an application or feature they are using and adopt a new one. Think of Gmail nudging users from Yahoo in the early 2000s. Or think of Apple nudging users with every IOS update. And literally every startup that’s challenging the way we do things.
And because of this wonderful eccentricity where we prefer stimuli we first encounter, designing change is hard. But my foray into the darkest realms of music has reminded me that remixes can very well be the “original” for many people. They may not have heard the first version on account of their tastes in music, or perhaps they were just not old enough when it was released. For them, the remix is the first stimulus. And so, they are likely to adopt it more easily. Kind of like how Gmail is the first ever email service that many have ever used.
And that’s been a lovely reminder to me as a product designer. What you create, re-imagine and redesign could be the first of anything that someone ever encounters. And you’ve likely changed their lives, or at least sparked some joy. What a privilege to yield such magic. ✨
Maybe you’re reading this and thinking, “What is she on about? I like remixes”. Many people ( and capuchin monkeys ) do! But I hope you can see that while I may be frosty towards remixes, my thought journey ultimately awakened memories of why I love my job as a product designer. My design will always be the first of its kind for someone!
And maybe in writing this, I am becoming a little more forgiving of remixes.
But not today. Today, my wine glass sits on the coffee table unfinished and my arepa waits to be savoured as I attempt to drown the echos of the dystopian rendition of my beloved “Layla”.
PS: I’m kidding about the monkeys liking remixes. There have been studies testing their cognitive flexibility, but no studies have been conducted yet to test which version of a song they prefer to tango.