The Consumer Matters is the blog of Leslie Grandy, aka Gearhead Gal.  My passion is creating and delivering compelling products that delight customers through simple and elegant user experience design.

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Tuesday
Sep082009

Retro Radio - Is that Redundant?

This Bamboo Retro Radio caught my eye not only because of its amazing use of sustainable wood and elegant typography, but because of its friendly rounded corners, big knobs and easy to see font size. That martian style antenna completes the package, giving this old fashioned radio a reason to come out of the closet.

Vivaterra sells this craftsmanship as Indonesian artisanry, but with a shortwave radio, iPod charging jack and matching bamboo charging station, it really is more 21st century than art, and it makes me remember listening to my grandfather's old RCA while watching Lost in Space. Ah, the memories design can evoke.

Tuesday
Sep082009

Purpose + Design = Brand

An interesting interview by Tony Tjan with Mats Lederhausen on harvardbusiness.org  talks about the catalyzing affect of a universally understood brand for both employees and customers.

"...we hear and see evidence of businesses not walking their talk. Their products don't match their promise. In order to regain this trust you must simply make sure that all your products, your merchandising, your advertising, your people and the totality of your touch points with consumers sing from the same hymn. And that hymn is what I call purpose. Some people call it vision. Others call it focus. It is the same thing. It is source of your promise. It answers the question: Why are you here?

I look at purpose as the guiding star. The compass. The soul. Steve Jobs once said "Design is the fundamental soul of a man-made creation". And everything we do is design in one form or the other. And if you have a fuzzy idea of your own soul, your design will suffer. On the other hand, like Steve Jobs does, if you have a sharp idea of your soul and what footprints you want to leave, all your design will complement and reinforce that soul of yours."

In product management, we talk about the "fuzzy front end" of development, where customers, research and a pipeline of good ideas swirl in the minds of marketers and designers. In the presence of fuzziness there is room for multiple interpretations of the inputs. This inevitably leads to multiple possible outcomes. Often what gets built is a ransom note of a product that services a group of executives but not THE customer. With strong brands, there is precision and clarity.  Most importantly, there is commitment.

Great brands have a purpose in the minds of their loyalists. They stand for something. And every person - employees and customers alike - who interacts with that brand should know what that  one truth is. The 4 P's of marketing should reinforce that brand not just through marketing communications to drive the sale, but through the entire customer lifecycle. A customer's journey should be framed by the brand's purpose so that each communication, each product interface and interaction, each support experience establishes a proof point that the brand is committed to that promise.  The promise can offer a consumer many things - security, efficiency, comfort - but it is not simply a tag line for an ad or a pithy catch phrase.  For a brand to be truly authentic, the commitment it makes to its customers must be actionable, understandable and accessible. And for great products to represent great brands, they must become the embodiment of the virtues of that customer commitment.

 

Sunday
Sep062009

The True Hybrid

Test, measure, improve, repeat. The mind of an analytic focuses on the success of products and campaigns by evaluating performance of metrics, which are usually set with a goal to drive business value. Businesses must create value for themselves, and be clear on what measurements indicate the business' health or predict a business failure.

The creation of customer value, however, may be harder to measure. The voice of the customer is what most marketers and product managers use to validate their roadmap and vision, however the customer is just as unlikely to act - when forced to part with their own dollars - in the manner they say they will in a survey or focus group. Peer group pressure, aspirational self images, and word choice all intervene to make typical qualitatitve and quantitative customer research less predictive than a product designer would like.

Design thinking has emerged as a discipline for business leaders and not just designers from the creative department. It's meant to incorporate a broad view of customer and business value creation activities than business analytics or market research by including business process reinvention, ethnographic studies and the user journey (touchpoints your customer has with your company.) 

In today's New York Times Business Section, Sara Beckman, Director of the Managment of Technology Program at Berkeley's Haas School highlights several case studies which support the notion that the most value is created for business when multiple schools of thinking are employed. "To survive, many businesses will have to figure out how to incorporate both approaches. Design thinking offers tools for exploring new markets and opportunities; Six Sigma skills can be applied to improve existing products. Companies that adhere strictly to one or the other risk failure. “The practices that make for success at one time can trap firms and contribute to their downfall at a later time,” says Bob Cole, a quality expert and professor emeritus at the Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley."  Read full article here and share your thoughts.

 

Saturday
Sep052009

My Birthday List - Part 2 (Only 90+ More Shopping Days)

I agree with Fast Company that this may in fact be the most amazing flashlight ever designed. If not, it certainly is the coolest way to build anticipation for something as simple as a flashlight.


This may be 'Earcandy', but the new Jawbone Prime mixes great acoustical engineering with fantastic industrial design.  That's the way I like it!

Tuesday
Sep012009

Tuesday
Sep012009

A Phone Dressed With Lace?

I don't know about other women, but I have always been bothered by the merchandising of technology to and for women. Bling and bright packaging don't displace comfort and value in my hierarchy of needs. Despite the value some women may see in discovering a mirror on the back of the Pre, it certainly isn't the "why to buy" feature for me.

"There’s a raging debate among the digerati on diversity in technology and if women get fair representation when it comes to opportunity to speak at conferences and other tech events. When it comes to consumer electronics, I can say, women are a misunderstood and neglected community.

Designing and creating products for real women shouldn’t be so difficult. Real women want stylish products. They want products that are fashionable, competitively priced and easy to use. And marketing tricks such as MSI’s ‘boys catching a laptop with their butt‘ isn’t going to help send the right message." [Wired]

Last year, over at GigaOm, Stacey Higginbotham lamented, "I’m always insulted by the assumption that woman who care about the features (other than color) on their mobile phones or how much memory their hard drives have are geeks. Maybe they simply recognize — much the same way as those with a Y chromosome — that an electronic device has a job to do, and then educate themselves about what a device needs in order to do that job."

Although women are still spending less on gadgets then men do, we are increasingly using our 'influence' to affect our guy's purchasing. Women are involved in over 80% of the buying decisions according to research by the Consumer Electronics Association. So what does that mean for product designers and product marketers?

Women care about the same things men do in products they buy - quality, durability, performance, comfort, ease of use. And like men, women have different style tastes. Every guy isn't the white socks and birkenstocks type, and every mom doesn't wear tennis shoes. Good product design - design that appeals to men AND women - transcends style and color. Synergistic form and function rule across gender.

Tuesday
Sep012009

What is "Good Enough"?


The bias of a product development organization to pile on the features is difficult for most organizations tasked with customer acquistion to resist. More, better, faster innovation is often what marketing teams beg for. But "what consumers want from the products and services they buy is fundamentally changing. We now favor flexibility over high fidelity, convenience over features, quick and dirty over slow and polished. Having it here and now is more important than having it perfect. These changes run so deep and wide, they're actually altering what we mean when we describe a product as 'high-quality.'

In other words, companies that focus on traditional measures of quality—fidelity, resolution, features—can become myopic and fail to address other, now essential attributes like convenience and shareability. And that means someone else can come along and drink their milk shake." [read full article from Robert Capps at Wired.com]

Tuesday
Sep012009

Albert Einstein on Innovation

"Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius -- and a lot of courage -- to move in the opposite direction."

Monday
Aug312009

When Consumers Can't Tell You What They Need

Don't be afraid to show the way. All of your answers aren't hidden in the data and the research - data may just point you to where your customers think the solutions are. Where you take them after that point, the journey you create for them, is the experience that matters most. I want to be surprised, delighted, tempted, and amazed. The products I can't wait to use are products 10 years ago I never knew I needed. A digital video recorder, an iPod, my Kindle. These products all meet needs I have, but not in a way I could have imagined before.

How does a great product design emerge, when the need you try to solve for doesn't fall off the tip of your customer's tongue? Associative thinking, also known as design thinking and hybrid thinking, is the key to making connections between customer needs and great solutions. Creative ideas aren't inventions derived from nothingness. They are the result, more often than not, of the juxtaposition of process, technology, and human interaction. The best creative minds can embrace boundaries and feel empathy for the customer's capacity or interest to solve most problem themselves. Associative thinkers then use those "constraints" to envision the components of a new solution that connects what is possible to what the user needs.

All creative ideas, however do not make business sense. And many spectacularly original ideas have failed because of bad forecasting, poor market positioning or faulty pricing strategies. Technical visionaries who don't deliver business results may find they become authors of white papers or "distinguished engineers". Linear, logical thinkers can design products that evolve, but likely will not find themselves able to move or leap over the "big" boulder that stands between them and the Next Big Thing.

Revolutionary products come from non-sequential thinkers. What hasn't been done before likely has no data to prove it can or should be done. So the hybrid thinker has to be willing to take a sensible business risk, create a new conversation with a customer, and enable new experiences that customer never thought possible. How are they able to do that, you ask? From a platform of trust called The Brand. Customers will take the leap of faith with you if they believe your brand has their interests at heart.

 

Sunday
Aug302009

Does Innovation only come in XL?

Ideas come in all sizes. The thermos persists as one of the great inventions - it keeps hot drinks hot and cold drinks cold. Brilliantly service coal miners and campers and commuters for decades. Was it a big idea in it's time? Is it innovation by today's standards?

We've also come to embrace innovation as the new "standard". Simple 'one click' purchasing is part of the expected experience for any online shopper who frequents an ecommerce site. Not re-entering your personal data is a convenience, and provides the benefit of a faster shopping experience. But combine one click purchasing and the app store on an iPhone, and it's unlike any experience on cell phone you saw before.

From Dev Patnaik's Innovation Blog
In a business culture that likes to talk up big innovations, we may be lacking appreciation for the beauty of the small idea. Outsized ambitions can set you up for failure in a big way when you spend most of your time rejecting your own thinking. No one bats a thousand at coming up with big, disruptive innovations, so you need to explore all your ideas to find the great ones. Not only that, most really big ideas often look small to start. In their book The Granularity of Growth, strategy theorists Patrick Viguerie, Sven Smit, and Mehrdad Baghai note that most billion-dollar business ideas look like $200 million ideas at the outset. Big growth happens when a lot of little things catch fire together.

Thursday
Aug272009

Customer-Centric Design: Got Empathy?

[via openforum by Matthew E. May ]
We all know what our customers want. We’re confident that we understand the problem. We look at reams of marketing reports. We conduct the focus groups. We survey them. We have plenty of data. Guess what? It’s not enough. Data can only indicate facts.

If we fail to descend into the field and take the long walk in the customer’s boots, if we don’t bother to look over their shoulder while they struggle with the problem, and if we take the customer’s word at face value, we can’t legitimately call our design strategy “customer centric.” Rarely do customers know what they need. So rarely can they tell you. So rarely does a great innovation come from arms-length market research.

The solution? Learn to see. Live the customer’s life. Watch the problem in the context and environment within which it occurs. View it from every conceivable angle like a good artist does when attempting to “render the truth.” If you don’t, you’ll fail to properly frame the problem. You’ll fail to empathize with your customers. There goes deep understanding. There goes innovation with impact.

The phrase in Japanese is genchi genbutsu (gen-chee-gen-boot-soo): go and see. Fully grasp the situation. See for yourself. Then, and only then, define the problem and design the appropriate solution.

You have to play police detective and FBI profiler all at once. To do that, you need a deep dip in the customer or user experience. It’s a lot harder than it sounds, but there are at least three ways to gain real insight into the problem. And in today’s marketplace, all three are necessary.

1. Observe—watch the customer. Designers at Whirlpool know that customers can’t always articulate the problem that needs solving, so they study their products as they’re used in the home. In a usability session involving a new refrigerator design, three separate cameras captured the difficulties in finding and replacing the water filter. Stop-action and slow-motion review of customer movement lead designers to the solution. Not only do Whirlpool designers watch and video-record the action in the kitchen, but they accompany technicians on service calls to gain insight into quality and dependability.

2. Infiltrate—become the customer. When Harley-Davidson sales dropped in the mid-1980s, CEO Vaughn Beals directed his senior management team to attend biker rallies and go on all the big Harley rides. Vice president of design Willie Davidson, grandson of the founder, saw that every Harley had been customized. He took the modification ideas and adapted them to future designs—sculpting gas tanks, chopping the chassis, adding chrome, and painting flames.

3. Collaborate—involve the customer. Intuit’s “Follow Me Home” program allows software designers to sit with the first-time user in his or her home or office. Designers learn what other programs reside on the person’s hard drive, how navigation between those various applications works or doesn’t work, and what paper and electronic sources of data the user pulls from to input into Intuit’s software. But they don’t stop there. They “co-create” and ask the user to essentially play designer. Incorporating many of the resulting customer ideas and configuration suggestions leads to the development of various targeted versions of financial software.

Thursday
Aug272009

Take Five Minutes to Watch 100 Years of Visual Effects

[via Gizmodo By Rosa Golijan] Let's take a five minute break from Food Week to watch this compilation of some incredible moments in the history of visual effects, from silent films to recent blockbusters. Oh, and pay attention to the background track. The tune's nice.

The movies included in this clip span over 100 years of cinema history:

* 1900 - The Enchanted Drawing
* 1903 - The Great Train Robbery
* 1923 - The Ten Commandments (Silent)
* 1927 - Sunrise
* 1933 - King Kong
* 1939 - The Wizard of Oz
* 1940 - The Thief of Baghdad
* 1954 - 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea
* 1956 - Forbidden Planet
* 1963 - Jason and the Argonauts
* 1964 - Mary Poppins
* 1977 - Star Wars
* 1982 - Tron
* 1985 - Back to the Future
* 1988 - Who Framed Roger Rabbit
* 1989 - The Abyss
* 1991 - Terminator 2: Judgment Day
* 1992 - The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles
* 1993 - Jurassic Park
* 2004 - Spider-Man 2
* 2005 - King Kong
* 2006 - Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest
* 2007 - Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End
* 2007 - The Golden Compass
* 2008 - The Spiderwick Chronicles
* 2008 - The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

[update: leslieg - I was very fortunate to have worked on two of these films, "The Abyss" and "Terminator 2". My first exposure to innovation born from design and technology intersecting. Awesome...]

Wednesday
Aug262009

How to design a great app

Spectacular chronicle of a designer's process to create a screamingly simple user experience.

Convert Design Evolution from tap tap tap on Vimeo.

Monday
Aug242009

What Promises Can Your Consumer Experience Make?

[Or, Don't Make Commitments You Can't Keep, Write Checks You Can't Cash - leslieg]

BY Steve McCallionThu Aug 20, 2009 at 11:04 AM

"I promise." It's a simple statement. One uttered by children trying to convince their parents that they will be good, by husband and wife on their wedding day (and every week on trash day). A promise builds a strong emotional connection between two people. They are simple words, but when spoken from the heart (and delivered on), they form the foundation for meaningful relationships--and consumer experiences.

Meaningful consumer experiences are based on a relationship between brands and people. By clearly promising something to people that is authentic and relevant, brands can increase the value of their products and services and connect on an emotional level.

Companies that deliver great consumer experiences understand the importance of a promise. Beyond a communication device, a good promise defines what a brand is willing to do for its customers and delivers on that through a series of artifacts. A good promise is simple and clear. It's relevant to people, but if it's only relevant it remains empty. As we wind down the age of overabundance, people are exhausted by empty promises. An effective promise must also be an authentic expression of the brand--something that a company cares deeply and passionately about. A promise built on relevancy and authenticity forms the foundation of a relationship built on trust. Today, people are looking for that. Read the full article here

Monday
Aug242009

How Real Innovation Moves the Needle

BY Dev PatnaikMon Aug 24, 2009 at 3:14 PM

Up until a year ago, innovation was the toast of the business world. Companies around the world were investing heavily in design, launching new products, and even building virtual retail stores in Second Life. Then the financial crisis erupted, destroying shareholder value, corporate budgets, and family income alike. In the wake of that disaster, it's entirely legitimate to wonder: is innovation relevant anymore? Read the full article here.

Monday
Aug242009

Even Apple Doesn't Hit Home Runs Every Time


iSuck: Apple’s Five Worst Products, Ever

Posted using ShareThis

There was the U2 iPod. And there was the $99 Leather Case. And then, my personal favorite, was the iPod Hi Fi. None of them barely remembered, though we all know about the battery fires and recalls.

Battery Exchange Program iBook G4 and PowerBook G4
Apple has determined that certain lithium-ion batteries containing cells manufactured by Sony Corporation of Japan pose a safety risk that may result in overheating under rare circumstances.

What makes great brands survive a hiccup or pratfall? It's how they recover. It takes a strong stomach and a commitment to disruption if a brand is to stand for innovation. A brand that takes the time to distinguish the essence of a good idea from a failed execution is more likely to survive the bumps. It's the entirety of the customer's journey with your brand that defines your true equities, create loyalty, and which can help you weather the occasional, but inevitable, product or service failure.

Thursday
Aug202009

Good design: Dieter Rams' ten commandments

Wednesday
Aug192009

Less and More - from Core77.com

Anyone who thinks that minimalist or clean product design begins and ends with Jonathan Ive would be well served to check out the latest exhibit on Dieter Rams. Unfortunately, the exhibit in question was already held at the Suntory Museum in Osaka, Japan but the contents of the retrospective have also been catalogued in a book, Less and More...

Saturday
Aug152009

"Design Adjacent"

I have always wanted to be an artist, writer or designer. With no graphical talent, I took up film because it gave me the opportunity to use existing visuals to tell a story. By framing, lighting, editing out a close up or adding in a slow pan, and juxtaposing imagery with music I could evoke emotion and create an "experience". The selection of a cinematographer, a costume designer, and art director was as important to the process as the words in the screenplay. How you embrace a simple declarative sentence like, "he entered the room" could be the difference between creating fear or relief for your audience.

There are many great lessons I have taken away from my first career in Hollywood as I work today at the intersection of consumer and techonology, but one of the best learnings I have had is that it's often the business people, the film's producers and studio executives, who have to be the most creative when it comes to solving problems or getting results.

In technology, the same holds true for product developers and engineers. Thinking creatively, may mean thinking "like a designer", and I agree with Garr Reynolds who believes this can lead to innovative solutions. Here are his ten tips for anyone in product management to remember about what contributes to great design.

(1) Embrace constraints. Constraints and limitations are wonderful allies and lead to enhanced creativity and ingenious solutions that without constrains never would have been discovered or created. In the words of T.S. Eliot, "Given total freedom the work is likely to sprawl." There's no point complaining about constraints such as time, money, tools, etc. Your problem is what it is. How can you solve it given the resources and time that you have?

(2) Practice restraint. Any fool can be complicated and add more, it takes discipline of mind and strength of will to make the hard choices about what to include and what to exclude. The genius is often in what you omit or leave on the editing room floor.

(3) Adopt the beginner's mind. As the old saying goes, in the expert's mind there are few possibilities, but for one with the beginner's mind, the world is wide open. Designers understand the need to take risks, especially during early explorations of the problem. They are not afraid to break with convention. Good designers are open minded and comfortable with ambiguity early on in the process, this is how discoveries are made.

(4) Check your ego at the door. This is not about you, it's about them (your audience, customer, patient, student, etc.). Look at the problem from their point of view -- put yourself in their shoes. This is not easy, it takes great amounts of empathy. Get in touch with your empathetic side. Empathy — an under valued "soft skill," can be a great differentiator and is key for truly understanding a problem.

(5) Focus on the experience of the design. It's not the thing, it's the experience of the thing. This is related to #4 above: Put yourself in their shoes. How do people interact with your solution? Remember that much of design has an emotional component, sometimes this is even the largest component (though users may be unaware of this). Do not neglect the emotional aspect of your solutions.

(6) Become a master storyteller. Often it's not only the design — i.e., the solution to a problem — that is important, but the story of it. This is related to #5 above. What's the meaning of the solution? Practice illustrating the significance of solutions both verbally and visually. Start with the general, zoom in to the detail, pull out again to remind us of the theme or key concept, then zoom back in to illuminate more of the detail.

(7) Think communication not decoration. Design — even graphic design — is not about beautification. Design is not just about aesthetics, though aesthetics are important. More than anything, design is about solving problems or making the current situation a little better than before. Design is not art, though there is art in design.

(8) Obsess about ideas not tools. Tools are important and necessary, but they come and go as better tools come along. Obsess instead about ideas. Though most tools are ephemeral, some of your best tools are a simple pencil and sketch pad. These are often the most useful — especially in the early stages of thinking — because they are the most direct. Good advice is to go analog in the beginning with the simplest tools possible.

(9) Clarify your intention. Design is about choices and intentions, it is not accidental. Design is about process. The end user will usually not notice "the design of it." It may seem like it just works, assuming they think about it at all, but this ease-of-use (or ease-of-understanding) is not by accident, it's a result of your careful choices and decisions.

(10) Sharpen your vision & curiosity and learn from the lessons around you. Good designers are skilled at noticing and observing. They are able to see both the big picture and the details of the world around them. Humans are natural pattern seekers; be mindful of this skill in yourself and in others. Design is a "whole brain" process. You are creative, practical, rational, analytic, empathetic, and passionate. Foster these aptitudes.

(11) Learn all the "rules" and know when and why to break them. Over the centuries, those who came before us have established useful and necessary guidelines — these are often called rules or laws and it's important to know them.

See Garr's full blogpost. Thanks to Bernhard Schindlholzer for bringing it to our attention.