Experience before products

For many in business, designing the experience before the product seems a weird thing to ask for. In the end, it is all about computers, mobile phones, game consoles, or washing machines – concrete products addressing concrete tasks. Yes, they should look and feel good, but, hey, working, talking, playing, washing is what people do and we provide products to do so. It is all about the product. This is at best “self-absorbed” as David Grzelak pointed out in his a brief opinion on Advertising Age. I would call it ignorant.

I am happening to be premium customer of O2. This is not because of my shocking turnover, but because of a muddled DSL order, which forced me to spend some considerable time talking to various people in various call centers. As premium customer, I am granted the privilege to apply for test driving new mobile phones. O2 organizes it as a raffle. The lucky winner gets the phone for four weeks or so and is then asked to give feedback for this privilege. This is what I would call self-absorbed. Hey, asking people to test without offering any compensation for the hassle is one thing, but framing it as a prize, a privilege is outrageous. For O2, it is all telephones and technology; for me life consists of a little more. As Grzelak emphasizes: People are not interested in the product itself, its detailed features and potential variations. And asking them about products might be futile.

They simply don’t want to talk about the product, the ingredients or what those ingredients did or didn’t do. However, after thousands of hours of research, I’ve learned what people don’t mind at all and never once resist or get tired of talking about is … themselves. Consumers are, after all, people. They engage with things and products that are interesting and meaningful to them. In order to get beyond the uninteresting and, oftentimes, undifferentiating focus on product features, marketers must position their brand not within a category, but within consumer culture.

I fully agree. In one of my recent industry-based projects on measuring the quality of interactive products, I tried to push the idea that we should rather measure the resulting experience in terms of needs fulfilled (see) than asking people to assess products. I got not more than a blank stare from the management, followed by being assured that it is much easier to talk about concrete features of a product than fuzzy human experiences and emotions. Maybe for a manager of a technology provider this holds true. For the rest of us, it don’t.

Let’s focus on the meaningful stories around product use. Let’s seek ways to deliberately design those, not only to pile up “practical” features. It is not about the product, but about how it impacts daily life through providing compelling and meaningful experiences.

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