Gladwell on Spagetti Sauce (Design)

On TED’s website, Gladwell tells the story of how Prego discovered to their great profit that not all […]

On TED’s website, Gladwell tells the story of how Prego discovered to their great profit that not all taste buds are alike.

This is not only entertaining, it’s a critical reminder to all designers that there is not one UR-design, but that sometimes you have to provide choices. It’s obviously an offshoot of his research from the fascinating and important The Ketchup Conundrum on the same theme.

Of course, in that piece he points to the fact that there *is* an ur-ketchup. No one wants extra-chunky or zesty ketchup, despite endless efforts from the food industry to break Heintz’s hold. It’s strange there is one true ketchup that you succeed or fail depending on how well you adhere to the design of it, just as it’s strange there is only coke and sometimes Pepsi, and pretty much no one else successful in the Cola space. Not quite the level of lock-in to ketchup, but close.

I saw a taste test of Mayonnaise on America’s test kitchen in which they concluded that, unlike other tests of other products, mayonnaise had to taste like what you grew up with, and it tastes different on the west coast, east coast and midwest. So there are regional ur-mayonnaises, based on familiarity.

This struck me as particularly relevant as we discussed threaded and nonthreaded discussion software at Linkedin, which led us to ponder other “religious wars” such as Mac vs. PC and VI vs. EMACS.

LukeW and I have often discussed conservation of effort; which means a certain amount of effort is always made in software usage, and you can take it on yourself on the design side, or push it off on the user. For example, how many times is personalization actually a way for a team to avoid having to make hard design choices?

Simple as possible, and no simpler. Sometimes you need an extra-zesty interface as well as classic, sometimes you don’t.


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    Chris Baum


    I like what Gladwell says here, but have a problem with his idea that ketchups have no range. To make the mustard comparison work, you should include both ketchup and spaghetti sauce together, as they are both “sauces” based on tomatoes.

    A similar examination with mustard would be to research to determine the the best yellow mustard, allowing for more variance in dijon, whole grain, and other varieties.

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