emotional design

What is it that makes your product distinctive?

In the recent copy of the Hong Kong British Chamber of Commerce magazine there is an interview with Fergal Murray, the Master Brewer for Guinness. He is asked “what do you think it is that makes Guinness so distinctive?” He replies,

I think there are a number of elements. From the brewers point of view, we want you to have a great all round experience. We don’t just want you to have a beer that’s refreshing, we want you to have an experience, to go through the ritual and theatre of emptying that glass. We want there to be a visual impact as well, it has to look fantastic. Finally, there’s a lot of flavour…

And you thought you were buying a pint of the Black Stuff because it was refreshing and tastes good. Yet for the Master Brewer these are bottom of the pile. Most important is the experience.

This is something that is missing in much software development. There are very few master brewers who go beyond just satisfying their customers with features and functionality, to focus upon delivering “a great all round experience”. To turn the mediocre and mundane into theatre. Like Apple have done with the iPhone. Like Guinness do with their stout. Yet something gets lost as you move away from the strategic owners of the Brand, to those responsible for tactical implementations. And this loss can obviously be costly. If the Guinness Master Brewer was only responsible for a drink that is an acquired taste, would it still be the sixth top ranked global Beer brand?

Brand irreverence

Brand has importance and value, but sometimes organisations can get too hung-up on the sanctity of their brand.  They don’t seem to like it if their brand brings on a smile…  Remember Coca-Colas attitude to the exploding mentos in a bottle of coke.  Rather than seeing it as free advertising (and associating their product with a positive emotion) they got hung up on the rational connotations and considered it didn’t “fit with the brand personality”.  This is certainly not the case with a kitchen appliance from Blendtec.  How is this for brand irreverence, blending the product of the moment, an iPhone on their viral marketing site willitblend.com.

Make something consumers love

Bubblegum generation presents a compelling model for Apple’s iPhone strategy:

1) Pick an industry which sucks (ie, imposes significant nuisance costs/menu costs/externalities on consumers)
2) Redress the imbalance by making something consumers love
3) …Which disrupts the long-standing industry equilibrium, and shifts market power
4) Use said market power to redesign (a hyperefficient) value chain

Don’t think that organisations in industries that suck don’t aspire to “do an iPod”. Go to any proposition development or product strategy workshop and it won’t be long before someone is mentioning Apple products. Yet all too often they fail to do anything truly revolutionary; they end up doing something different rather than “Redress(ing) the imbalance by making something consumers love”.

Do customers want something that is different or something that is just better?

Interestingly, little functionally in the iPhone is new. Like every other phone on the market it makes phone calls, sends messages, receives emails, takes photos and allows users to listen to music. Nothing different or new there… other than being better than every other phone on the market.

What Steve Jobs espouses is the experience of the phone. He says “So, we’re going to reinvent the phone. Now, we’re going to start with a revolutionary user interface… Now, what’s the killer app? The killer app is making calls! It’s amazing, it’s amazing how hard it is to make calls on most phones.”

He’s not looked to do anything radically different, rather do it radically better.

So how do you bring revolution to your product set? Rather than trying to be different, why not try to better. Make something that consumers love?

Take a leaf from the Apple book and focus upon the experience. Design and attention to detail are critical. Moving beyond purely functional and satisfying products to crafting experiences that engage the emotions. In agile product development it is often easy to focus upon delivering functionality that is perceived to deliver business benefit, yet end up with a mediocre product that has little resemblance to the original idea it was meant to become. Incremental delivery is a key feature of agile; it means you get stuff out there early and often. The challenge is to identify what that stuff is. To make something that consumers love using the agile approach, in addition to great developers and focussed project management, you need three people;

1. A passionate sponsor who has a dream and a vision and can articulate that to the team, banishing mediocrity from the outset
2. A business analyst who will help the team slice the functionality according to consumer needs and desires; that take the consumer of the journey they want to travel, not a predefined route that constrained to picking those features that eventually will deliver greatest value.
3. A customer experience architect, interaction designer or graphically minded usability dude who can champion the product aesthetic and usability.

Get them on your side and maybe you might be taking the first step on developing a better gizmo that your consumers will love, and sleep outside your retail outlet for hours to buy one.

Won’t you please… be concise

Won't you please give this seat to the eldery or disabled

Seen on the New York subway.  Is the “won’t you” really necessary?  The tone of the notice is trying to be friendly, but surely when you are writing signs or labels it is better to be concise and to the point. Afterall, it’s a sign, not conversation.

Heard on a suburban comuter train going into London, a pre-recorded generated message.  “London Underground inform me that there are currently no delays on the system”.

“Inform me?”

The “me” is a recording.  Again, the tone is trying to be friendly, but it is not real.

When communicating to customers use a style that is appropriate to the media.  If it is impersonal information you are providing, be concise and unless it is coming from the mouth of a human in real time, don’t try to fool me that it is otherwise.

Joined up experience

The “customer” agenda has moved beyond CRM. “Customer experience” is being taken ever more seriously; some more enlightened organisations have customer experience representation at the board level. It’s all about thinking in terms of the experience customers have with us- considering every touch point – understanding the journey the customer takes from first becoming aware of our brand, through researching and purchasing our products to developing them as a loyal and profitable advocate of ours.

Sadly the IT that underpins many organisations doesn’t get the customer journey. It is routed in organisational silos and delivery channels that mean everything to the organisation but nothing to the business.

We know how successful our web channel is: we’ve got webmetrics. We know how successful our telephony channel is: we’ve got a sales force motivated to sell, and a dashboard that tell us their success. We know how successful our stores are: we’ve got sales data, we even measure footfall in our stores.

But is it joined up?

I go into a store and a salesperson helpfully shows me the product, but I’m not yet ready to commit. She offers me a great deal, I’m tempted, but I want to check it out on the web. I search the competitors, the salesperson was right, she was offering me a really good deal. So I got to their online shop and there is nothing like the tailored deal I was offered in the store. There’s a number on the website and I get through to the call centre. I start all over again. I get the same sales patter I got in the store and saw on the web. I’m offered a deal that is similar to that in the store. I’m ready to commit… but they don’t have any in stock, I’ll have to wait seven day. So can’t I buy it now and pick it up in the store tomorrow? I don’t think so.

Where is the driver to improve things? Each channel has contributed to the sale but each is a silo that has its own reporting lines. They are in competition with each other, each wanting the sale none of them recognising the other in the journey that led to that sale. Yet ultimately their failure to work together is destroying the brand value.

What’s the value in changing colour?

As a registered user, I want to change the colour scheme on the web site so that…

Where’s the value in this story? Agile focuses upon business value, and in doing so it commoditise features. The sponsors of the development are invited to prioritise features based on their “business value”. This means that seemingly pointless gimmicks will slip out. And this may impact the overall experience that the sponsors strive for. Yet by commoditising features the sponsor sees how the costs break down. To have functionality that changes the colour of the site will require effort. It’s not going to come for free. And that means that either scope will increase resulting in either increased cost or increased time. The challenge is when you have a sponsor who knows just a little: “changing colour? Pah! That’s a bit of JavaScript and changes to the stylesheet. I could get the code on hotscripts and knock it up in front of the telly tonight…

And of the requirement to change colour on a site, in fact that whole customisation thing? Until recently I’ve never seen the value of it. After all, how many people have you seen with a personalised theme on their windows desktop, or even just changing the desktop background? One reason people don’t do this is because they are lazy. The call to action to change it is hidden behind a right click, and it’s not exactly straight forward to do. But there’s a bunch of new sites that challenge the user’s laziness. These seemingly pointless customisation features are part of the overall experience. And they work. And by doing that, they add value to the site.

Human Computer Experience

HCI.  Human Computer Interaction.  Whilst I’m an HCI practitioner, it’s an acronym I feel uncomfortable with.  It is a discipline grounded in task-based activities with its roots in organisational computing.  Now that computers are ‘ubiquitous,’ task based analyses of the way that people interact with technology are insufficient. HCI needs to borrow from anthropology, graphic design, sociology, visual arts, to more beyond the “task” to the “experience”.  Human Computer Experience (HCE) anyone?

The product is irrelevent. It’s the customer experience that pays the bills

Why do organisations exist? To make money.  In corporateSpeak “to add shareholder value”.
Where does money come from to deliver shareholder value? Customers.

Many organisations seem to forget this slight detail. It gets lost in the internal machinations and politics.
Why do individual funcitons exisit within an organisation? Marketing, product development, IT, sales, operations… None of these add shareholder value make money in themselves. Yet in all too many organisations these different functions behave as if they exist for themselves, they are entities unto themselves. Each entity may pay lip service to the “customer” but how joined up is the reality?

How familiar is this.

The product team identify the need for something, based on anecdotes from the sales guys, or something they perceive to be wrong with the existing product or a hunch about a potential niche in the market. A niche in the market but is there a market for that niche? A bunch of requirements are written up and an optomistic benefits case is written up. There are x million widget users in the market place. Y% of these would benefit from NewGizmo. We project 10% of these will buy at a price point of £z. The requirements are thrown over the wall to IT to put some development costs on the project. The project has yet to start and a launch date is set in stone. And a project manager has yet to be assigned. Marketing are brought into the picture and tasked with how are we going to sell the product. Development starts (the new project manager is aghast at the scope and timescales he is inheriting). Operations enter the project and throw water on the fire. There a whole bunch of compliance and business as usual considerations that only now come to light. Relationships become tense as the project manager tells the product team that they can’t have what they want by the date they wanted it. The date has been set in stone, so the product team throw out some of the initial requirements, based upon an argumentative workshop on Thursday afternoon (noone bothers to refer back to the initial benefits case, even less any thought of how their decisions impact the overall customer experience). And inevitably a cut down NewGizmo is launched to the market a month late and sales are nowhere near what was projected. What we need is NewGizmo 2.0 and so the cycle starts again…

What if we put the customer at the heart of the organisation.  What if everything we do is motivated by serving the customer?  What if we forget all about our products and focussed upon what our customers’ need and how we can delight them.  What if the products become an enabler to a compelling customer experience, rather than an end in themselves?

Isn’t shareholder value all about generating revenue? Isn’t revenue driven from customers?  Aren’t customers driven by compelling experiences rather than mediocre hassle?

Clarity in objectives

Too many IT projects have vague buzz-word objectives.

  • “Single sign-on”
  • “Legacy refresh”
  • “Migration”
  • “Porting”
  • “Global Tick database”
  • “Unified platform”
  • “Cross channel integration”
  • “Content mashup”
  • “Real-time la-la”
  • “Streamlined processing”

These aren’t objectives. They are recipee for confusion, lack of clarity and focus. Better to think in terms of customer journeys, what is it that an end user want’s to achieve, end to end, and focus on delivering real value to customers, rather than trying to deliver some amorphous, mamouth “implementation” that does a lot of something mediocre, and little of anything great.

If you were a bank, which bank would you be?

In the last year, Barclays have rebranded themselves. This is not just a change in the logo (as apparent with NatWest) but a focus on the customer experience. Go into a branch and there’s a calculator on the desk to add up those cheques you are paying in. And a pen to fill out your paying-in book. A free pen. A nice touch – they don’t assume their customers to be thieves and chain the pen to the desk – how much does a pen cost? And put a logo on the pen and you have free advertising.

Free pen at Barclays

On the counter there’s some technology to enable customers to rate the experience they’ve just had. Capturing customer feedback at the time of engagement, better than a focus group at a later date in a stale market research suite.

feedback at barclays

Outside the branch they don’t call the hole in the wall an ATM. They call it what their customers call it. A Hole in the Wall. All these things make me feel warm towards the brand. Brand Warmth is something that marketeers measure. Customers who feel warm towards a brand a more likely to consume that brand. In marketing research, perceptions of the brand can be tested further using word association. “If AcmeBrand was a car, what car would it be?” “If AcmeBrand was a tablet and you took it, what would happen to you?”

I think that we can borrow some of this thinking when we build software. I’ve written previously about emotional requirements – how do we want users to feel when using what we design and build. Before we start on something new, ask the question “how warm do we want our users to feel when using this product?” It’s a useful level to pull; warmth is probably going to cost more.” “If this product was a car, what car would it be?” If the customer says “Ferrari” and we are thinking Ford Mondeo we need to focus on managing expectations. A Ferrari is going to cost a lot more than the Ford. I’d like to know what I’m going to get before I start bragging about the new sports car I expect to soon be parked in my drive.

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