Emotional Design by Don Norman is my favourite book on the subject:
You should spend some time reading Emotional Design .
Only amateurs to design think it is all about usability and minimizing complexity.
The real ROI from a talented designer is a product that creates an emotional connection with the user. Just look at Apple products: people attach their identity to the products - that's how powerful the design of the product can be.
The design (which includes the technical capabilities) can extend beyond just a simple tool providing utility to something which is a memorable pleasant experience - which you want to keep using.
Companies you can achieve the above are the ones who are incredibly successful i n the tech industry. Design is not always obvious - so people easily miss the cause/effect. And achieving it is not all about a flashy gradient or trendy flat design. It's a complex extremely well thought-out user experience. Take a phone's UX for example, from opening the package, to how it's used daily, to the times you need to plug it in while half-asleep next to your bed.
None of that can be summarized as just "getting out of your way", it's about providing the best experience as a result of optimizing the hundreds of small interactions involved in using the product.
A typical designer will view functionality/usability as the ultimate goal, which often fails in practice because they ignored the other 50% - the emotional, sometimes irrational, side of value perception in products.
This is critically important in industrial design.
For example two emotional things stand out in your story:
a) the metal version seems tougher than plastic, appearing to be stronger aesthetically, even if it doesn't do a better job for the use-case
b) a local person made it, creating a local emotional connection to the products
Emotional Design by Don Norman - http://www.amazon.com/Emotional-Design-Everyday-Things-ebook...
(summary of above - http://www.curledup.com/emotionl.htm )
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