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The Impact of Digital Goods

In response to last week’s post on digital patina, Paul Hebert pushed back on why patina mattered at all for digital goods. It was a great question, and it forced me to think more deeply about the topic than I previously had.

To me, it’s not just about the patina.

It’s about the experience of interacting with digital vs. physical goods. Physical goods have weight and presence. They’re tangible. And if they’re well made, they often look better with age (that patina thing again).

That’s not really the case with digital goods. They’re ethereal and intangible. They don’t often inspire an emotional connection the way a physical good can. They’re always separated from us by panes of glass and circuit boards.

And when they age, one of two things happens - they’re “remodeled” to look like the “new big thing,” or they’re left as is, and begin to look like wood paneling and shag carpet of the digital age.

As a designer of digital goods, I’m interested in how to create things that have meaning and impact, that create an emotional experience, and that get better with age. I believe it can be done, but the old metaphors and models don’t necessarily work.

That is, I think, a far more difficult aspect of web design than the technical requirements of the job.