Most product ideas don’t get past the drawing board. And many of the products that do make it to the finish line still go down ingloriously. Why? The answer seems simple: the customer perceives the possibilities of the new product as less important than the disadvantages. This creates resistance. Knowing that will bring the solution of the problem closer. In the design phase you have to start from customer benefits and overcome resistance. Then successful and meaningful products are created.
It seems obvious. But why does this not happen in practice? If we are to believe Professor Deborah Nas, this happens because we get too carried away with the technical possibilities. We do not pay enough attention to customer wishes. That fascination for what is ‘possible’ is a more important motive than knowledge about what a potential customer ‘wants’. This can be done differently: with the aid of the design methodology.
Example: Google Glass
If products are based on what is technically possible with Virtual Reality (VR), Augmented Reality (AR) and Artificial Intelligence (AI), sometimes technically perfect solutions with enormous potential are created. However, if the consumer estimates the value to be lower than the price to pay, it will not be a blockbuster. Moreover, if the product evokes resistance, for example due to the alleged invasion of the privacy of others, there is no other option than to remove the product from the market. Such was the fate of Google Glass, which was announced with great fanfare. After extensive study and redevelopment, a version has been developed for professional application. It is more promising, away from public space.
In addition to the – unfulfilled – customer wishes, there is also the phenomenon of ‘resistance’. Every change starts a movement. According to the laws of physics, movement leads to resistance. It is essential to prevent, reduce or eliminate this resistance. If the new product is less threatening, it will also lead to greater adoption. This in turn ensures good design and more successful product introductions.
You may now think: beautiful. I get it and I’m going to work on it. But maybe you think: ‘how then’. In that case, the book compiled by Professor Nas offers ‘Design Things That Make Sense‘ (affiliate) with a total of 37 tips and explanations and a manual. She should know, with 25 years of experience in innovation and design.
That seems like a neat checklist that can be checked off point by point. The practice, however, is more unruly. Often there is overlap or a combination of the different elements. That also means that sometimes you can kill two or more birds with one stone. Good news for anyone who wants to get seriously involved with design: the synergy is there for the taking.
You can think beyond the product itself. Look at what is happening in the field of mobility. The technology ‘under the hood’ is changing from mechanical to increasingly electronic.
Design as a driver for change
That has an impact on everything. In the past, a handy person with a screwdriver and baco could proudly say after an afternoon of tinkering that the car ‘ran like a charm’ again. Now you almost have to be a software engineer to fix a car. But the advantage that the car now sometimes runs on solar energy outweighs considerably.
The most durable product on the market is the one you already own. – Greenpeace
But that’s just the technology. If you look at the market as a whole, there is a lot more in motion. Thanks to all the software and apps developed, it has become possible to engage in ‘car sharing’. The platform economy has also made its appearance here and we are increasingly shifting from ‘car ownership’ to ‘mobility as a service’.
Example: Polestar as prototype
The mobility market is in full swing. This resulted in a homegrown innovation. The Polestart that has won one prestigious design award after another. It is a product that combines several of the mentioned ‘benefits’.
We understand that you can save time with an electric car (advantage #4), because – if you plan smartly – you no longer have to stop to refuel. After all, the car charges while you sleep – or even while you drive. That is of course also cheaper (#9). But the increased efficiency (#10) due to less need for maintenance and less wear and tear, which extends the lifespan (#22) also generate enthusiasm. Social acceptance (#20) is enhanced because the reduced emissions reduce the footprint (#23). In that regard, Polestar seems to have the package complete. A prototype of perfect and purposeful design.
Top tips for good design
Are all those 37 tips important? Doubtless. But some seem just a little more important than others. Therefore, here are some universally applicable principles with explanation.
1. Make it simple
The world around us is becoming increasingly complex. That’s why people crave simplicity in all areas. But making things simpler is the hardest thing there is. There are a few guidelines:
- Reduce friction by automating things. Think of barcode scanning of foodstuffs to record your calorie intake or a contactless car key.
- Simple interfaces. For example with a thermostat. In addition to the extensive programming options, the temperature can also be set higher or lower with a simple rotary knob.
- Excess harms. As a technical expert, you may want to pack as many options into your product as possible. You can do that better in a dosed manner. Basic options for the novice user and advanced settings for the more experienced user.
- Link your product. By integrating your app or software application with existing products, you often avoid extra effort
- Focus on the purpose of use. Apply the Pareto principle. 80% of the effect comes from 20% of the effort. So strip the product, remove everything superfluous. The creators of Instagram (originally an airplane check-in app) did just that – very successfully.
- Keep it logical. People look for standard patterns. That is why the navigation is always at the top of the website and everyone knows that if you want to refresh your screen in an app, you simply swipe down. So conform to these conventions with your design. That helps.
2. Save money
There are many ways to save money using technology. For starters, you can help customers save money through the cost of the purchase decision. You can also improve the efficiency of your product. This is possible due to a number of things:
- Provide fair comparison. The comparison site lists the sales prices for similar products. These comparisons are often a bit skewed, because not all options or extra costs have been included. An app that does that in the right way is literally worth money.
- Offers joint purchasing. By giving consumers the opportunity to purchase something together (many examples recently for solar panels or energy), both the consumer and the supplier benefit.
- Automate. We all know the commercial in which Usain Bolt promotes the insurance company Allianz Direct. (“Not bad for an insurrance company”). Reporting claims via apps simply makes everything faster and more efficient – and therefore cheaper.
- Make customers aware of the total costs. Of course, the purchase price of a product is important. But the total costs (including maintenance, energy consumption, depreciation) only complete the picture of Total Cost of Ownership (TCO). Therefore, make sure that people can make the right decision.
3. Ensure privacy
Due to the strong rise of digitization, a number of tech giants have access to enormous amounts of data about the users of their platforms. We have noticed in recent years that this data is sometimes used incorrectly. But it’s not just about social media platforms or search engines. Suppliers of products that are continuously connected to the ‘central database’ thanks to the Internet of Things can also be seen as threatening. So make sure that you reduce the fear of this in your design.
- Don’t collect too much data. Like the search engine for example DuckDuckGo is doing. Their policy is clear: “We do not collect or share any personal information.” Ready!
- Provide perfect protection. An example is the encryption that reporting service signal used. The technology they use is virtually unbreakable.
- Put users in control. Let the customer decide who can see which data. An example is the link between the Apple Watch and the Nike Running Club app. As a user you can allow a link. You can then set who can see what from each other.
- Return the data to the customer. This goes one step further. Simply hand the data back to the customer to keep in their own data locker instead of on the platform’s servers.
- Make data deletion easy. Provide a facility whereby all data that someone has left behind on your platform or in your product can be deleted with the push of a button. Like Apple does with the iPhone. If you want to sell or trade it in, a click on ‘back to factory settings’ is sufficient.
Design better products!
These are just summaries and interpretations of 3 of the 37 parts described in the book. Always provided with nice examples and useful tips – including the associated do’s & don’ts. All for a good cause: better ‘products’. Or as Deborah Nas states after the last chapter: “Reducing resistance is not primarily intended to persuade customers to adopt your products. It’s about developing better products that generate less resistance.”
You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains. – Steve Jobs
Example: Fitbit loses time for sporting lead
The technology of tracking and wireless communication made it possible to drastically change the experience of fitness and health. Fitbit continued to develop their product. The ease of use has been increased and the possibilities increasingly extensive. That led to an absolute leading position in five years.
Until Apple introduced its Watch. The design, functionality and of course the brand were experienced as superior. The result: market leadership for the Apple Watch, which continues to strengthen year after year. Fitbit, meanwhile, was struggling with all kinds of problems. In terms of privacy (resistance #2), ambiguity about what happens to the data (resistance #3 and #8). Google’s acquisition of Fitbit two years ago may not have allayed those concerns. But it does give the company the means to – now as challenger – trying to improve the position.
Useful & necessary – not only if design is your main task
The English-language booklet ‘Design things that make sense’ is definitely recommended. I call it a bookisjust because of the size. It is handy and easy to take with you for a quiet read. But in terms of content you can certainly call it a bookwork to mention. It is bursting with meaningful content, theory is interspersed with appealing examples and useful tips. Like most books on design, it is equally cheerful and brightly designed. But what matters most is the content. This is perfectly fine as stated.
Instructive for product developers, marketers, technicians and yes, of course also for designers… Maybe even for consumers who wonder why some products do or do not survive. The countless cases in the book illustrate this exuberantly. So take the book with you on holiday. For two bucks you certainly have a useful product in your hands.
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