Are you a visionary or missionary?

Photo by Burak K on

You might recall I bought a Kindle! and so it only seemed fitting to download “Invent and Wander“. The first half of the book is a collection of Jeff Bezos’ shareholder letters whilst the second half explores his life and work through a range of interviews and speeches. I highly recommend getting your hands on (or downloading!) the nearest copy as it is truly inspirational.

The Kindle is a powerful example of building a product that directly solves a customer need. It sold out in the first five and a half hours.

Let’s think about books for a second. Someone records their story or knowledge and each individual who picks it up gets to imagine or interpret it exactly as they want. It’s actually crazy when you stop and think about this entire process being inside your head.

Bezos and his team were not arrogant enough to think they could replace books. They acknowledged they couldn’t replace something so timeless. What they did believe in was their ability to improve the experience of reading a book and their vision to have “every book ever printed in any language, all available in less than sixty seconds.”

And this here is brilliant – they identified the key feature of a book, the experience that they’d need to pull off to make Kindle a hit:

When you read a book, you don’t notice the paper and the ink and the glue and the stitching. All of that dissolves, and what remains is the author’s world.

The two key design principles of Kindle were:

  1. Just like the physical book, it would need to disappear
  2. Focus on adding new capabilities that physical books and book stores don’t have – “We could never out book the book”

So what does the Kindle do that a physical book can’t?

  • quickly look up the definitions of words and save them to build your vocabulary
  • search your book collection (if you have an overflowing bookcase this is a good feature!)
  • highlighter and notes tool – no book lover would EVER highlight their book
  • change font size

Bezos continues with his observations about the way technology has shortened our attention spans and shifted us towards a style of ‘information snacking’. Especially when it comes to smart phones with their smaller screens the last thing any of us want to do is to read an enormous document on there. They simply aren’t designed for this.

And this is what makes Kindle and its designers missionary rather than visionary: the Kindle is a step towards the mission of regaining our attention spans and our love of reading.

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