Whatever you design exists in a context — and creates context.
Knowing this leads to better product experiences.
I recently read a letter (pdf) sent by Warren Buffett to Charles Nuggins, president of See’s Candies, in 1972. Buffett (whose company, Berkshire Hathaway, bought See’s that year) was sending Nuggins feedback from the field.
The whole text is worth your attention (link below), but the first point stood out to me:
People are going to be affected not only by how our candy tastes, but obviously, by what they hear about it from others as well as the ‘retailing environment’ in which it appears. The latter includes the class of store, the method of packaging, the condition in which it appears, and the surrounding merchandise. Just as the New Yorker creates a different ‘editorial environment’ for a Lord & Taylor ad than does the Village Voice, so do the surroundings in which our candy is offered affect potential customers’ mental — and even gastronomical — impression of our quality.
In essence, the candy may be of the highest quality, but that’s not enough. The environment in which it’s offered changes how people perceive it.
If it’s shown in fancy surroundings, people will think it’s a high-quality product.
Conversely, people will think it’s lower quality if it’s shown in shoddy surroundings next to cheaper alternatives.
Nothing exists in isolation. Whatever you make will be experienced as part of a broader context that influences how people understand it.
Work on the work — but also consider the frame around the work.
How much agency do you have over the context around the product? How can you tweak the context to make the product shine?
(I saw the letter via the Farnam Street newsletter, which is worth your attention.)