Great Products Focus On A Motif

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What does it take to craft a great product? For those of us who design and build apps, websites and software, a great product means one that delights its users. But digital product development is a complex beast.

In art, literature and music, the word “motif” is often used to describe a salient, recurring element that has symbolic significance. Across artistic media, a motif is a small atomic unit that inspires everything else. In paintings, the motif could be a color, mood or message to be communicated. In music, a motif could be a set of notes, a melody or a rhythm. The great compositions and symphonies of the 19th and 20th centuries are masterpieces in which every note connected back to the motif.

A Motif Is Fundamental To Product Quality

In 1937, during the Spanish Civil War, Italian and German forces devastated Guernica, a small defenceless Spanish town. The bombing shocked and inspired many artists, including Pablo Picasso, who later painted a mural named after the desecrated village. The motif of Picasso’s work is the tragedy of war, and from a singular anti-war sentiment came a painting you could look at for hours because of its complexity — layers of symbolism, hidden images, bodies, animals and fire, all frozen in form on a massive canvas.

Similarly, Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony is a classic example of the whole stemming from a single unit. The very first four notes of the symphony — three short, one long — are the genetic material from which the other thousands of notes stem. This motif is then transposed and transformed continuously through all four movements of the symphony. You can see this transformation in a visualization of the first movement, and follow how the motif gives the music a sense of unity and inevitability.

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