Tue 22 Feb 2011
Here’s a “Director’s Cut” for a post of mine born on Feb. 16, 2011 at nonboxpdx. Viva la verbosity! -ME
Want to know what your company has in common with cultural powerhouses with iconic products like Nike, Apple, Virgin Atlantic, Legos and Porsche?
As it turns out, not much.
That was my key takeaway from the latest book trumpeting design and deep customer analysis as the way to the promiseland of sustained revenue and consistently unleashing products that people crave.
Thankfully, former Business Week Seattle bureau chief Jay Greene uses Design is How it Works, as a platform for showing the uninspired that creating a product or a company that taps into the Id of people is as simple as embracing failure and financial losses, changing organizational processes to bring Design Thinking into every discipline in a company from the C-suite through R&D and on down through the ranks, and doing deep ethnographic and psychographic research on probable users of your product before embarking on your next build.
Sound a bit daunting?
It is. which is why IDEO’s Tim Brown notes in the book, that when people tell him of their aspirations to be like Nike or Apple, he counters “You don’t have the nerve.” That is the greatest part of Greene’s book for me. The corporate moguls and design luminaries he interviews call a spade a spade. You can’t be Nike. You aren’t Steve Jobs or Jonathan Ive. You haven’t got the discipline, the reputation or, frankly, the balls.
The headline of this post is inspired by every client or boss who has uttered phrases like “We want to be known as the Apple of the (insert industry segment here).” Or…”Our products are best-of-breed innovations and we need to create the same experience and culture Nike does to drive demand and loyalty to their products”
Never mind that the industry segment is sewage treatment technology or the product is road salt. Make it pop, sucka! How many of you design professionals can relate to John Barratt, president and CEO of Teague in Seattle:
“I can’t tell you how many how many product briefs we get saying we want a product that’s as good or better than the iPhone,” he says. “That’s a five-alarm brief for me..those folks just don’t get it. An iPhone is not a product. It’s a manifestation of a culture.”
It’s that kind of no-bullshit take on the power of design to transform a company and an economy that makes Greene’s book so endearing, refreshing, and such a swift read.
For those of you who still think you’ve got what it takes to check your egos at the door, throw caution to the wind in the face of financial pressure, and actually find out what your customers want instead of what you can give them, here’s something you should know. Good design isn’t what you think it is.
- It’s not an emotive image with pithy text and a dope beat from a band named Mooseknuckle.
- It’s not a box made of hemp fiber in the shape of condor’s nest that was — be honest – an afterthought to hold your clever “Must-have” eco product.
- It’s not even the promise of a new piece of software that reports it will solve world hunger with a user interface you’re sure is so easy even a chimp can use it.
It’s how a product works in the hands of your customers. It may be easy to use or pleasing to look at, but if it doesn’t solve a pain it’s a waste of time and money. “If there’s no pet peeve, there’s no product,” says Alex Lee, president of OXO.
Thus, the title of the book absconds with the Steve Jobs quote: “It’s not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.”
Whether that’s the tried-(or trite?)and-true of form following function, an evolution of tired phrases like “out of the box thinking”or new fangled concepts like Design Thinking permeating all disciplines to foster organizational creativity — the bottom line is you need to know your customers better than they know themselves. The only way to do that is to get your hands dirty and actually engage with them where they will put your product to use. The book gives some great examples of how and where to do that in the profiles on OXO, REI, Nike and Lego.
So, for me, the book is a call to get your head out of the freaking clouds or at least out of your own building. It’s time to stop aspiring and start perspiring. There’s plenty of work to be done learning about what your customers need to cure their pet peeves. Build those products and they will come.
And, instead of leaving you with a cheesy movie line platitude, here’s a more actionable treat from Jay Greene himself when I swapped a note asking for him to clarify design thinking and discuss ways all companies can infuse their operations with the principles of design thinking:
“Like industrial designers, design thinkers use creativity and empathy to help them craft something that has an emotional connection with customers. They prototype concepts and collaborate with colleagues to test theories and come up with novel approaches to new products. The difference is that design thinkers apply those concepts to businesses, such as software-as-a-service, that people don’t typically think of as being design-focused. They use anthropology, sociology and psychology to study customers in order to understand their unstated and unmet needs. They prototype strategies and experiences much the same way that companies model early versions of physical products. So if you’re looking for strategies for companies to implement to create iconic products, design thinking would be a great place to start.”