Monday, November 29, 2010

Why Products are Like People (Aka: My Dear Friend, The Toaster)

I'm endlessly fascinated by the study of why people love one product more than another (or choose, or adopt, etc).  It's not that complicated or erratic really. In fact, I think there's a fairly predictable set of patterns and principles inherent in the products that people love, and it's likely going to be included in my masters thesis next year. For now, this entry is just a variation on that concept. This is just a hunch that I would really be interested in getting feedback on. The hunch is that people seek out the same qualities in products as they do in people.

If you think I'm crazy, consider knowing a person with the following qualities:

  • good communicator
  • enjoyable
  • accommodating
  • accessible but gives you free space 
  • trustworthy
  • flexible to change
  • well-kept appearance  
I imagine this would be a person that you would like. Now, consider a product with the following qualities: 
  • easy-to-understand
  • enjoyable 
  • useful
  • accessible but non-obtrusive 
  • dependable 
  • adaptable/customizable 
  • nicely designed
Much like the person, I expect this is a product that you would enjoy owning and using. The commonality between person and product affection is probably not very shocking in any way. And of course, I wrote this list with this hunch in mind, so it's extremely self-fulfilling. However, it's worth considering what's not included in that list to get an understanding of the implications this concept may have on product design and development. Specifically, I'm thinking about performance...

There's something exciting about a product with all the bells and whistles and performance measures way beyond your needs. Just the same, it may excite you to know the best athlete in school, the best looking girl, or the smartest person you know. For both the product and the person, these things are great and potentially useful in some circumstances, but for the most part, they aren't the reason you like them. The basic common principles above are essentials for truly liking a person or product, while unnecessarily high performance and other high-level attributes are not. In fact, one could argue that these non-essentials even become a detriment as they hit a certain level. After all, do you really want to be friends with the smartest person you know? 

Monday, November 22, 2010

Idea 15: Disruption Leads to Twitter Concierge

For this week, I would like to focus on the Disruptive Technology paradigm. This concept, evangalized by authors and MIT professors Clayton Christianson and James Utterback, explains the phenomenon of technology or product concepts that enter a market and completely change the business model as a result. I won't attempt to explain the whole concept, here but the idea is that a market can grow and shift in such a way that it opens up the opportunity for a disruptive product, often centered around price, novel technologies, and "good enough" performance.  Corresponding attributes of the products in the new market could include improved accessibility, design simplicity, and ease-of-use. Disruptive Technologies often appear in a mature market environment where the existing firms have been competing on high performance measures, carrying high prices along with them. The opportunity for disruption is heightened when the competing level of performance has actually exceeded the need of the average user. (For more on the exceeding of user expectations, read up on the invaluable Kano Analysis method.)

So how to identify opportunities for Disruptive Technologies? This is obviously a real challenge but the idea is to seek out markets where product features and performance may be hitting expectations but exceeding needs, which is a signficant distinction. What markets feature users that may soon become overwhelmed with information, confused by features, and seeking simplicity? Personally, I think Social Media is a target.

To scope the exercise, let's talk Twitter. Now I use Twitter far more for consumption than for production of information. I do Tweet, maybe a few times a week, but mostly, I really like Twitter as a means of following interesting people and companies related to design and innovation, just to keep up on any interesting happenings that may be going on. I also happen to follow a dozen or so sports writers that cover the NFL and the Boston Red Sox.  Twitter for me is really about saving me time by simplifying the vast array of available information by distilling it down through people I have trusted to do the filtering for me. The product is fine - part useful, part interesting distraction, part time-saver. It's generally valuable, but it's an endless fire hose of information that I can't possibly keep up with (my own fault for configuring it this way, of course).  

What if you could create a simpler version of Twitter? More assistance, more templates, less consumption... no tweeting, targeted at a less technical audience that has no use for tweeting but does want up-to-date information. No searching and browsing for information sources. Simply type in a topic that interests you (e.g. European Business, World Cup, etc.) and the system dynamically determines the most relevant Twitter sources tied to the topic (I'm talking Twitter "Concierge" not Twitter Search). This is about competing on a simple, high-quality user experience, not on quantity of information. Could even consider implmenting this in a whole new form factor, like a counter-top device, appliance display, etc. I think I know a whole range of people who would be interested in this, and I wonder if you do too...

Ideation by Design

If you've read "Where Good Ideas Come From" by Steven Johnson, you would be sold on the idea that most (if not all) great ideas are simply connections or new applications of existing constructs. It's such a simple insight yet endlessly interesting when you consider the deep repository of evidence that spans time and domains. So if Johnson's hypothesis is true, why do we fail to apply to our ideation methodologies? For some reason, idea generation tends to be left to the design department, or the creative manager, or some other "idea guy" that's expected to sit in his office and wait for the perfect idea to appear in a mystical image. So, in many entries to come, I will focus on developing an ideation process that proactively leverages known patterns observed in natural idea development. Please provide feedback as I would love to work together on developing these ideas...

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

LegoLive Concept

New concept for Hiroshi Ishii's Tangible Interface class...

LegoLive (which has no connection to Lego..yet?) allows kids to continue to play with their creations by adding them to a digital world and playing with friends online. Games and activities can challenge kids and their imagination.