Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Kolaveri Di school of product design.




Many of you are likely aware of a sensational video that went viral over the past month. Why this Kolaveri di?  has racked up more than 23 million views on YouTube, spawned multiple copy videos and parodies, was covered in Time Magazine and inspired Amitabh Bachchan, iconic Bollywood godfather, to meet Dhanush, the singer.

If you are not aware of this, you should watch it now. It is a very simple Tamglish (Tamil-English) song that speaks of the pain of love on a one-way street.

A friend condescended on Facebook that there’s nothing to it musically. Famous Indian lyricist Javed Akhtar trashed the song (he may prefer this (Bengali) classical version). Even Hitler had a fit of apoplectic rage (must must see, language no bar). My friend did not get it,  Javed did not get it and Hitler did not get it either :-)
"KOLAVARI-D". Every one is praising the robes but the emperor is naked. Tune ordinary, singing substandard. words an insult to sensibility" - Akhtar
I disagree with them all! Mein Gott! (I just got unfriended at Facebook :-))

It prompted me to think about why Kolaveri Di is good. It’s not just a viral video. I don’t write a blog post about every viral video I see. Kolaveri Di is not just a phenomenon! Kolaveri Di is a genuine consumer product. Let’s see what it teaches us musically about a great consumer product.

1. It appeals to the senses.  

Myspace and Orkut  lost out to Facebook because eventually, the products became noisy and garish and did not appeal to the senses at large. If the drums are too loud, or the guitar too distorted, it can hurt! There are many classical music pieces that are complex and involved, but they are not appealing. This brings to mind a must-see scene from Amadeus - Salieri on Mozart - everyone can remember Eine Kleine! I’m not saying Dhanush is Mozart (:-)), but everyone can remember Kolaveri.

2. It is simple.

Initially, I was highly sceptical about Twitter! How could a company provide long-term value with short 140-character messages! Back then, I was passionate about an idea that was  = Twitter + search + Flipboard. While compelling (as it still is today), it was hard for folks to grok.  While it turns out that the Twitter limit is beginning to hurt, and Facebook and Google Plus are marginalizing Twitter with rich features like Hangouts, Timeline, etc., Twitter demonstrated a key point of product design - people like simplicity. Google’s simple interface was critical to success. The iPhone’s single button was magic. Kolaveri Di is simple. Complexity is hard for consumers to consume, and can sometimes be downright ugly - sometimes,  classical music can be contrived and over-done. Sometimes simplicity is more important than power.

Microsoft and Intel can go blue in the face that Wintel is more powerful and flexible than the iPad (which is true) ... but we’re in the “post-PC” era folks! That's why Windows is going Metro! Sometimes simplicity is more important than power. As in this case!

3. It fits!

In good products, things fit! Legos! Redesigns for major products are hard, since they need to fit well, or people who use them will scream and shout. The button size, colors and the font size are important. Even though you have full-featured browsers on smartphones, you can have crappy experiences on some websites on your smartphones - the buttons are too small, you touch things that you don’t want to, etc.  

Kolaveri Di was conceived out of simplicity - dual-language, basic theme (one-way love affair!)  - and was built with rhythm at the core. What the musical snobs don’t get is that it is not the accented words, not the head-nodding beat, not the unconventional use of the Nadaswaram, not the languid voice, not the casual tune, and not the story that make it great. The secret is - they all fit perfectly! The colors complement each other! It’s great design!

The thing is this - once you sing it, and shake your head to it, you get why it’s more cute than when you heard it!

4. It is localized/internationalized.

Many products are english-only, or not localized for global use. Kolaveri-di was designed from the ground up to be multi-lingual, and has therefore transcended barriers - it’s a global product! You don’t need to know Tamil to enjoy this. Even the Queen "liked" it! You don’t need an understanding of the vocabulary - the song speaks of the pain of unrequited love, and the Scotch does the talking!

How many people in Japan are singing/dancing to Javed Akhtar’s songs?

5. It lends itself to repeat use

Movies are hard to see multiple times - only a few have that capacity. Music lends itself to repeated use. But ...I don't know about you, but I hate hearing the same song more than once on the same day - I feel cheated. Very few songs can be repeatedly heard on the same day without causing nausea! Lift Karadey ... Brick in the Wall ... Hotel California ... Money for Nothing ... Kolaveri Di

Yahoo! mail is so slow now, and keeps popping up the same IM request from some stranger, even after I say "don't". That's nauseating. I love Yahoo! but repeat use is getting harder. Facebook provides occasional delight - some old friend from decades ago to connect with. Repeat use is critical for product success!

6. It is marketed superbly.

A product needs to be known. All great products are marketed well - either by super ads - Apple - or by word of mouth / viral campaigns - Google, Facebook, Twitter. Viral happens! But you need to put something in the position to go viral. Launching the video was a masterstroke! Give credit, don’t begrudge the marketers. Remember, it’s not the marketing that caused the song to be great!

There are many products I’ve sampled once and will never taste again.

This product speaks sings for itself!
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