Interface as luxury

We can understand the notion of luxury in the physical world. But what is digital luxury? What does a luxurious interface mean? And, what is a luxurious digital experience?

Recently, we’ve been doing some work for Toyota Lexus, and I was asked to present a talk to a group of managers about the future of customer experience in the luxury car market. As I was conducting my research, it became clear that like everything else, cars are also becoming more and more digitalized.

A car seat can be luxurious because of the material used for making it, due to its visual design and ergonomics. Beautiful craftwork and expensive materials can set a dashboard or steering wheel apart.

What about the Sat Nav (GPS) system? What kind of luxury is available there? Should the roads look luxurious? Should the signposts be handcrafted, so that they look more beautiful? Would that be luxury? Or, in fact, could it be dangerously distracting and confusing? Would luxury be more like real-time traffic information spoken in a way that perfectly suits your personality? However, some Sat Nav systems, on certain occasions, talk too much for instance (Here’s looking at you, Google). Imagine if you could train the system with easy commands. Imagine if when the system says you’d arrive at 10:33, you actually do arrive at 10:33. Would that be luxury?

The one thing rich people don’t possess any more than others is time. Time is luxury. Every minute saved goes into the luxury bank. Telling the driver that there are friends of theirs fifteen minutes away who are about to order at their favorite restaurant and that a free chair is available there—that’s luxury. Or, is it actually so? If you tell the driver this just after they’ve had their meal, perhaps it’s not luxury. If the friends happen to be the driver’s spouse and the next-door neighbor, then maybe . . .

It’s very easy to get things wrong in digital. Today, Google kept mistaking me for being Spanish just because I was visiting Madrid. One time, that’s ok. Again and again and again—that’s simply annoying.

Luxury is a unique, special, exclusive experience. In the digital world, this often requires a very deep understanding of the person involved. And, therein lies a tension, because those who seek digital luxury would be required to give up more of their information and become more dependent on their digital assistants.

Those who create physical luxury will be challenged by digital luxury. As physical luxury takes time, craft, tradition, and even an obsessive focus on quality, nothing can be released until it is absolutely perfect. At times, digital luxury delivers an amazing new service but can be rough around the edges. Digital luxury, by virtue of its very highly fluid and malleable nature, iterates rapidly, and it is constantly changing and being refined further.

The first people who bought computers partook in unique, exclusive experiences. They were the special few who experienced what a word processor or spreadsheet was like. The first people who used mobile phones thought they were special too.

The luxury is in the interface. We don’t marvel at the physical engine; we marvel (if at all) at its representation on the dashboard. Have you ever seen someone gazing lovingly at the battery of an electric car? When it comes to digital technology, it’s the interface, the screen, the voice, the information that denote luxury and the experience.

2 thoughts on “Interface as luxury

  1. emily

    I more or less agree with this article, but not with this statement: “The one thing rich people don’t possess any more than others is time.” Rich people can pay others to do things that take up time, so they end up having more time than people who can’t afford to pay someone to do cleaning, laundry, etc. Being rich means you have more control over your time; you have more freedom to choose what to do with your time than someone who doesn’t have money.


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