Thursday, October 06, 2011

Steve Jobs memorial post

Steve Jobs was a visionary-style designer.  His famous quote says it all.  Users don't know what they want until we design it for them.  But there are also user-centered designers that also are successful.  We need both.

In design, there is always a debate between people who think new designs should come from visionaries like Jobs who imagine things people will love that they don’t even realize themselves.  These designers ignore focus groups, customer surveys and user-centered research that compiles customer requests, complaints, ethnographic study, A/B testing, etc to gain insights into how a design should evolve.  The rule of thumb is that visionary design gets you radical breakthrough innovations but user-centered design is crucial for the day to day improvements that keep you in business after the fast followers and cheap knockoffs jump in

Really, companies need to do both.  The company that first commercializes a successful breakthrough gets lots of first mover advantages.  But soon, the fast followers will be in with newer and better versions of the new idea because they copy and adjust based on your design.  And then the knockoffs jump in with low end versions that cater to the bulk of the market that just doesn't need to be cool, they just need to get a task done.  So unless you can develop breakthroughs on a regular basis, you need to fast follow the fast followers.

I see good and bad examples of both all the time.  Here is one that incorrectly interprets user needs.  Most studies show that ideas like this backfire horribly.  The weight of the cutlery would burn maybe 20 extra calories. But because people feel they are doing something healthful, they would probably consume 100 more calories during the meal.  I have blogged about this entitlement bias before. Just considering ordering a salad often increased the number of people who order dessert, even if they never wind up getting the salad.