The tyranny of nice

My first English lesson with Mrs Sullivan aged nine. She was one of those teachers you remember. An awesome teacher.

Nice” she told the class, “nice is a word you will not use”.

The word “nice” was forbidden in her classes. And woe betide anyone who described their weekend as nice, or their birthday present as nice (probably an Action Man or Scalextrix or if you were really lucky a Raleigh Chopper or Grifter).

It is a lesson I learned and kept close to my heart today:  Nice is mediocre, saccharine, inoffensive, meaningless, ordinary, without passion, expression or meaning. “Nice” is a faceless word. “Nice” is something that the left brain aspires to and the right brain shuns. Nice is an anathema to the artist, to the designer. Nice doesn’t provoke, it doesn’t inspire. Nice is instantly forgettable.

“Have a nice day”.

Shit NO! (this deserves swearing – see the passion that Mrs Sullivan infected in me; what a teacher!) That’s “have an ordinary day”. It’s not a differentiated day. I don’t want to just have a nice day. I want to have an awesome day, a magical day, a memorable day!!

And the same with experiences and products.

Disneyland isn’t nice; it’s memorable and magical (despite the fact that you spend most of your day there queuing). Do you think that Steve Jobs would be happy if someone called the iPhone ‘nice’?

Nice is for Microsoft. It is for engineers to aspire to. Nice is not art, nice is not design, elegance, simplicity or beauty. Nice is dull mediocrity.

And yet nice is something that corporate software doesn’t even begins to strive for. There’s no place for nice in software methodology. Think Scrum; nice is rarely even a nice to have (it’s gold plating). Tell me Scrum Masters, in your zeal to deliver “business value”, ship the “minimal viable product”, I bet you’d be happy with what you deliver being considered nice.  F@@k that. Your projects fester in a world of mediocrity,  in a quagmire of backlog; picking off stuff to do, focussed on features and functions rather than customers goals and a desire to delight.

Bring it on Mrs Sullivan. Nice has no place in the English Language. Bring it on, Agile + Experience Design. Nice has no place in software development.

Can you banish nice from your lexicon; go beyond nice and seek delight?

I don’t want to have a nice day, I want to have a memorable day.

I don’t want to have a nice product, I want to have an awesome product.

I don’t want to have a nice experience. I want to have a memorable experience.

…And if I’ve designed an experience and the only word you can use to describe it is ‘nice’ then I consider myself a failure.

The Dumbo ride at Disneyland; it delights, people will queue up for it, even though there is nothing special about the ride itself.  Carousel rides are nice enough but forgettable, the Dumbo ride is memorable and an experience to enjoy


  1. Conor Neill · Tuesday, 7 September, 2010

    Nice blog post Marc. 😉

  2. Paul Hadfield · Wednesday, 8 September, 2010

    I fully agree, but my English teacher drove the point home even harder. “Nice” is not only a bland word that is over used, it is actually incorrectly used. Back in the 80’s when I was at school, the dictionary definition for “Nice” already had several meansing, ranging from “Hard to Please / Fussy” to “Foolish / Silly”….with a foot note to common usage in the modern language. Checking online dictionary’s today I see that the common usage has become the definition of the word, and the footnote is now that it used to mean many other things in the past.

    I loved the FastShow, which had an entire series of plots around the phrase “Which was nice!” (see amongst others).

    All this over a single word and I’m a dyslexic – wow, that English teacher must have been good (Mrs Steele I think her name was)

  3. Conor Neill · Friday, 10 September, 2010

    Reflecting a little more, I remember that my english teacher Mrs Murray had a thing against use of the word “bad” – she pushed people to use “poor”, “mediocre”, “awful”…

    My dad has a big thing against use of the word “very”. He believes it adds nothing to the sentence. If something is “very good” then make it “excellent”. “Very” is lazy.

    Wow, there are some language nazis out there… The french even have a whole official board of them that tell the french how and how not to use their language.

  4. Michael Long · Monday, 20 September, 2010

    I have a habit of saying “excellent”. I especially use “excellent” when it’s directed at someone presenting a “nice” piece of work.

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