Under-delivering

I had a boss once tell me, “Never over-deliver. Why give something more than you agreed to?” I think this advice is good if your primary concern is quantity and not quality (meaning, those extra touches that make your user smile, not general quality). If, however, you want to take the time to create something that is more than just functional, I think you need to disregard that.

Functionality comes first. The thing has to do exactly what it’s supposed to do. Everything after that is what makes the thing yours, primarily, above something someone else crafted. It is the unique identifier – your own signature. In the corporate world – as in Family Feud – creativity is not often rewarded. That is unfortunate. This boss of mine was very deft in the corporate world (and a really good boss), so in context, it’s just pragmatic advice.

But it feels awfully soul-crushing.

I’m not sure I like the sound of the phrase “over-deliver” – it sounds onerous to the end-user. But I like the idea of delighting the user in some way, even if only subtly. Examples abound in the tech world. Apple specializes in this. Of course, we gladly pay for what we get from Apply, so in their case it’s only an over-delivery in that we never know what to expect and often don’t anticipate quite everything.

Recently, I got a postcard from Anthropologie. They send these things out every once in a while; not very often. And understandably so; they’re special because they’re unexpected. I have two in mind, in particular. One was basically an embroidered cardboard rectangle. There wasn’t much embroidery, but it made the piece special. I have it saved somewhere. The other was the most recent one. It features a small clock face token on a string that wraps around the card with a cigar wrapper over that. The theme is “it’s that time again.” If you run a Google search for “Anthropologie birthday postcard,” you’ll see plenty examples of people being delighted by these cards – and therefore taking a snapshot to upload. Same story for their gift cards – they come in interesting packages.

An Anthropologie birthday card
The clock token is a fun surprise. I feel silly for saying "fun surprise" but it's out there now.

I can’t believe I’m using this example, but I recall hearing on the DVD commentary for Family Guy that the script called for “a fight scene” between three characters. That was the extent of the direction. What came back from the director and animators was a lengthy and detailed fight scene that incorporated references to movies and the show itself. That’s over-delivering in a good way.

I was skimming an article on Fast Company earlier today about how UI can make or break an app. Specifically, how adhering too closely to a design metaphor (skeumorphism, in this case) makes the app cumbersome. That’s over-delivering in a bad way.

I can’t believe that anyone LIKES to under-deliver, if it means they’re delivering the shaky, skin-of-their-teeth minimum and means they must fly off to the next project. It sounds exhausting. Unless, I suppose the illegitmi have already carborundum, in which case, I imagine they wouldn’t much care. I do recognize that under-delivering and delivering to specification are not synonymous.  But it sure feels that way sometimes, when you have already conceived of what could be.

Meeting expectations should be the first level you attempt to attain in your work. Then once you have the basic necessities nailed down, then you can strive to include the things you know will make this thing better, whether it’s raisins in cinnamon buns or a really great interface or whatever. Once this is the expectation, you are free. It is understood that what you deliver will be unique to you; it will be special. You have freedom to be creative.

Try to make them smile.

Smiles
She's pleased by the bouncer

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