I had a “Eureka” moment while listening to Robert Brunner give the closing keynote -- “Ideas, Not Objects” -- at MEMS Executive Congress US 2012. As the founder, creative director, and partner of Ammunition, an innovation firm behind countless winning consumer brands, Robert helped me see why MEMS is not well known to the “man on the street.”
In his keynote, Robert spoke of how “a brand lives in a person’s heart. When two people feel the same thing about something, it’s a brand.” Thanks to social media, many of us are suspicious of any product unless it goes with an “actual capability that is valuable to us.” Consumers can smell fake, he said, and “our BS meters are finely tuned.” So, my dear engineers, you have to think about the actual emotional/thinking human being who is going to use and love your product. Thankfully, MEMS is the kind of technology with which consumers fall in love, so designing MEMS into your products should help to increase that intangible value and emotional connection.
In Robert’s worldview, the iPhone is not successful because it’s the best smartphone. It’s the idea that the iPhone is the “portal to my connected world” that makes it the number one smartphone in the world. Yes, technology enables, but design establishes. Sheer brilliance.
Robert then shared some fantastic case studies -- designs and brand experiences in which he personally has been involved: the Nook by Barnes & Noble and Beats by Dr. Dre. When Robert began talking with Barnes & Noble, it was clear that it is a bookstore at its core. Its e-reader needed to offer the experience and emotional connection of a book. The simple answer was to design the Nook without buttons (vs. the Amazon Kindle). Compare the two e-readers, and you can clearly see which one looks more like a book (spoiler alert: it’s the Nook).
His next case study was the story behind the creation of Beats by Dr. Dre. Through a series of music videos/commercials, Robert told the story behind his collaboration with Dr. Dre and Interscope/Geffen/A&M Chairman Jimmy Iovine. Robert defined the Beats brand, which bridges the connection between recording artist and the consumer listening to modern music via headphones (and other audio products). Creating “ideas, not objects” means the Beats brand has value for which consumers are willing to pay.
In Robert’s visionary interpretation of the creative process, “everybody is a designer.” Wherever you are in the chain of developing/delivering something that ends up in a user’s hands (not just consumer, by the way; this could apply to a guy steering a combine, too), you should embrace your role in the user experience -- and know that you can effect change.
He urged the audience to realize that “if you let the technology drive the experience per se, you may end up with something that works, but is difficult and does not connect with people.” That connection to an “idea” and not just to an “object” drives the user’s connection to a brand.
Robert has not only proven his ability to design beautiful and useful products; he has also demonstrated an uncanny ability to communicate to a bunch of MEMS executives the power of his message.