Creating Great Products In an Uncertain World according to Peter Merholz of Adaptive Path (WebVisions 2009)

I'm a fan of Adaptive Path and their work, so I was excited to see this talk by Peter, who comes from Adaptive Path.

Key insights:
  • Creating a "north star" is all important from a design perspective, because it is key that everyone can understand if their baby steps take them in the right direction or not.
  • It's easier to move the north star as circumstances change if it has just the necessary amount of detail.
  • Plan for "The Long Wow": your product experience should keep creating wow moments over time, not just all when the box is unwrapped.
Notes:

Subject to Change: Creating Great Products and Services for an Uncertain World
Peter Merholz
Adaptive Path
  • Approached by O’Rielly to write a book.
  • Media is a mess
    • Craigslist took the classifieds
    • Everyone took a piece of the ads
    • Blogs are taking the readers
  • Music is in metamorphosis
    • iTunes is the #1 retailer
    • Labels are loosing their grip
    • Live Nation – focused on live events, not CDs
  • Travel is turbulent
    • The three top quality carriers are all low-fair airlines
  • Predicting the future has never been easy, but it’s never been more difficult
  • Predicting the future won’t work.
  • Instead, seek approaches that will continue to work no matter which prediction come true.
  • [Story about how Kodak invented not just a new film system, and not just a new camera, but a whole new customer experience. When Kodak has paid attention to customer experience, they have done well. When they lost focus, they stumble. Kodak: “you press the button, we do the rest”]
  • The way a company builds things:
    • Inside Out: Data à Logic à User interface
  • But the way a user sees things:
    • Outside In: User Interface à Logic à Data
  • The customer really only sees only the user interface. Anything that happens inside of that, we don’t care about. It might as well be magic.
  • Example: Google Calendar
    • There were lots of other calendars out there.
    • Google wanted to do something exceptional
    • They created a vision
      • Set out to build a calendar that works for you
        • Fast, visually appealing, and joyous to use
        • Drop dead simple to get information into the calendar
        • More than boxes on a screen (reminders, invitations, etc.)
        • Easy to share so you can see your whole life in one place
      • Designed for the consumer world where not everyone has a calendar (or one on the same system)
        • Open APIs
        • Invitation for everyone
    • This vision occupies a middle ground
      • Not so highly level as to be useless (“A world class calendar”)
      • Not so specific that every action has to be evaluated against dozens of requirements
      • But provides guidance: if it takes 19 steps to get something into the calendar, that’s clearly not drop dead simple.
  • Example: TiVo
    • “It’s entertainment, stupid”
    • Not “build a better VCR”, but make it easier, better to watch to TV.
    • TiVO users would say “I can’t imagine going back to the old way of watching TV”
    • Now vision is more cleaned up
      • It is reliable
      • It puts me in control
  • Example: Flickr Vision
    • We want to help people make their content available to the people who matter to them.
    • We want to enable new ways of organizing photos and video.
  • Does Your Experience Have a North Star?
  • Focus on the lives of customers
    • Companies tend to oversimplify their view of people
    • 4 old ways of thinking
      • At worst: “a gullet whose only purpose in life is to gulp products and crap cash” (from The Cluetrain Manifesto)
        • This is exactly how cell phone companies and cable companies treat people
      • Homo Economicus: Highly rational, maximizes utility, quantity!
        • But we’re not all Spock. We make emotional decisions.
        • This leads to feature wars: our competitor did these 10 features, so we have to do those 10 features and then 2 more.
      • Type A Personality: Task oriented, Goal Driven, Efficiency!
        • Services like wasabi help people understand their relationship to money as compared to neighbors and peers. That’s a better goal than simply trying to make things most efficient.
      • Sheep: Docile and gullible, Stories and messaging, Preferences!
        • It’s really disrespectful
        • Our customers are sharper than that
    • Not all wrong, not really right.
    • We are evolving our approaches.
    • What’s been missing?
      • The messy complexity of life
      • People regularly mix and match products with little regard for “suggested use”
        • We use products the way they serve us.
      • They challenge social and cultural boundaries in unexpected ways.
        • Picture of monk using cell phone
        • Picture of Proposal written on highway overpass
      • We want to understand people as people
      • What’s missing?
        • Emotions (people can’t bear to throw away their old, broken iPods because they had such an emotional attachment)
        • Context (understanding the context in which customers really use their product)
        • Meaning (people tie their identity to their product: I’m an iPhone user, an Android user, etc.)
    • Do you understand your customers as people?
  • Embrace the complexity: Use systems to support experiences
    • Just expose the minimal amount of complexity to our customers that we have to
    • Experiences cross boundaries
      • Some dysfunctional companies forbid “watercooler” conversations, forcing employees to go through management chain.
    • Iterative approaches
      • More effective
      • When we try to plan everything in advance…
        • We don’t end up where we planned to be anyway
        • Even if we do, we find out that isn’t where we need to be
    • Prototyping and making
      • Story of original Palm: put a block of wood in his shirt pocket to mimic the device. Pretended to enter data using a stylis.
      • Story of mocking up a medical device using a film canister, paper clip, and magic marker to stimulate size and shape of device.
    • Deep/wide collaboration
      • Teams that are cross disciplinary are very helpful
      • Example: the Target ClearRx system. A “safer drug delivery system” that encompasses a new pill bottle, a new type of label, a color coded system. It involved the bottle, the pharmacists, the marketing, the training team, the supply chain, software, a new labeling system. Contributed to a 14% increase in drug sales, and won many awards.
  • Engage in design as an activity – develop an organization capacity for design
    • 1: Design as aesthetics (a vodka bottle – it’s pretty)
    • 2: Design as a distinct role (the guy who is the font geek)
    • 3:
    • 4: Design as a rock star (the power of design to save the day / good / profitable )
    • 5: Design as an activity
    • Design is an activity that an organization ambraces, that everyone can be involved in.
      • Product owners, managers, developers, people with design in their title, strategic planners
    • Benefits
      • Idea fabricator
      • Reframing the fuzz: the wall you run up against in the middle of your product
      • The Long Wow: how you get customer loyalty
    • How Do You Create Loyalty?
      • Traditional answer: give them a loyalty card
      • Meaning more means repeatedly creating notably great experiences.
      • Notably great experiences are punctuated by a moment of “wow” when the product or service delights, anticipates the needs of, or…
    • Peak-end rule
      • People average the peak (best) experience as well as the most recent experience, and average the two.
    • The Long Wow
      • Product is a platform for delivery
      • Plan for wow experiences over time
      • Example: compare the pedometer that packs in all the features up front, or the Nike+ system that has no screen or UI, but lets you access the data via a web interface… so that the interface can be improved, it goes way beyond what the other pedometer can provide.
      • “Powersong” capability of Nike+ : the song that helps you make that last half hour.
      • Can set up contests to compete with your friends. You don’t have to run at the same time or place. “The last one to run 100 miles has to buy lunch”.
  • Survey of 362 firms
    • 95% say they are “customer focused”
    • 80% say they deliver a “superior experience”
    • 8% of companies’ customers agree that the firms deliver a superior experience

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