Peter Merholz, President of Adaptive Path, asked this question in his presentation to the Minnesota Interactive Marketing Association (MIMA) last week.

And, like any good presenter, Merholz strung us along before providing his answer.
Is it "Can't live without it"?
Is it "never breaks"?
Is it "highly profitable"?
The highest compliment a product can receive is–
Of course, the example Merholz offered was the iPod, whose virtues were extolled once again:
Visually appealing
Joyous to use
Drop-dead simple
All these add up to cool. To many, cool is the be-all and end-all. Cool surprises and delights. Cool is refreshingly new. Cool is unexpected, yet intuitive. Cool, it seems, transcends and encompasses all the other compliments.
All this makes perfect sense. What was a bit confusing to the Web designers, Web writers, and interactive marketing professionals I spoke with at the MIMA event was this: Why is the president of a user experience firm talking about product design to a group of interactive professionals?

Yes, yes, of course there are similarities between great product design and great Web design, chief among them a relentless focus on user needs and a quest to "design from the outside in," but what if we were to rephrase Merholz's question:
What's the highest compliment a website can receive?

OK let's face it: this could be controversial. For e-commerce sites, it's one answer. For news and information sites, another. For promotional sites, still another.
So which of Merholz's answers is the right one?
Can't live without it
Never breaks
Highly profitable
What do you think?
Is cool the greatest compliment?
(I think "great content" is the greatest compliment.)

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Hi, I’m Gwyneth Dwyer. Nice to meet you.

I’m Director of Writing Services for Larsen, a design, marketing, interactive, and branding firm with offices in Minneapolis and San Francisco. I have the very fun job of leading Larsen’s award-winning writing group and overseeing millions of words written for Larsen clients. (Everything from product names, taglines, and campaign themes to Web content, marketing literature, ads, and articles.) On any given day I’m weighing in on the smallest grammatical detail — and the biggest creative concept.

I’m also the editor of inSights, Larsen’s popular e-newsletter. I’ve been published on and in the Design Management Review.

Before joining Larsen in Minneapolis, I ran my own writing services agency in Boston, working with fantastic clients such as the Harvard Business School Publishing Division and Addison-Wesley publishing.

One of my core beliefs is that the most exciting, effective creative work results when writers and designers collaborate. At Larsen, I’m fortunate to work with talented writers who think visually — and amazing designers who understand the power of words.

I invite you to read my posts and comment! Blogging is a conversation.