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Would You Vacation With Your Customers to Build a Better Product?

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Alexander Wolfe
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Role of the customer
Alexander Wolfe   11/18/2011 8:45:43 AM
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Key insights in this wonderful story, about how the role of the customer in the design process is able to be coherently articulated in the post-Jobsian world. Unlike the old MS line from the early 1990s -- "We'll ship it when our customers say it's ready" -- the presents the correctly nuanced view that customers are a key PART of the design process but they shoudn't DRIVE the design process.

Rob Spiegel
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Innovative innovaton
Rob Spiegel   11/18/2011 10:41:56 AM
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Good story, Chuck. I'm curious to know whether these efforts ended up paying off in design efforts that would not have occurred without the customer interaction. I'm also curious about whether the engineers and designers witnessed behavior that varied from what they understood from their own behavior in cars.

Do you know if this practice occurs in other industries? The movie industry famously tests its plots and particularly it endings on audiences. 

Charles Murray
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Re: Innovative innovaton
Charles Murray   11/18/2011 10:52:33 AM
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Rob: The observations definitey led to a design that wouldn't have otherwise happened. Their choice of capacitive touch, for example, was based on the fact that some users had problems with other types of screens. Also, the design uses only four physical (non-software) buttons, as opposed to between 14-18 on most such screens. That was done because users complained there were too many buttons. And, yes, they definitely witnessed behaviors different from their own. They said one woman put dozens of sticky notes on her dashboard to remind her of how everything worked. Another driver said she didn't want her e-mail read aloud to her while the kids were in the car, so they incorporated that feature.

Rob Spiegel
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Re: Innovative innovaton
Rob Spiegel   11/18/2011 11:00:53 AM
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Interesting to hear that the effort was productive. I think half the battle is just to be conscious of what customers need. I used to travel a great deal in the 1990s, which meant using a lot of rental cars. One thing that came clear was that Japanese cars were more comfortable. Nothing in the driver's compartment seemed to get in my way. With most American cars, I felt like I was elbows and knees, bumping into everything as I got in and out of the car. With the Japanese cars, everything seemed to be in the right place, easy to reach.

I always suspected that Japanese designers were paying more attention to the interaction between the driver and the compartment.

Dave Palmer
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Re: Innovative innovaton
Dave Palmer   11/18/2011 11:15:22 AM
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In the outboard engine industry, customer experience is paramount.  It's common for engineers to get out in the field with customers, dealers, and service personnel.  It's very dangerous for engineers and designers to be barricaded in engineering.  There is no substitute for a dose of reality - and, when you make recreational products, the ultimate reality is the customer's experience.  I can't say we always get everything right - and sometimes we've gotten things colossally wrong - but we do try very hard to make the customer experience the best in the world.

Beth Stackpole
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Re: Innovative innovaton
Beth Stackpole   11/18/2011 12:36:04 PM
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Great story, Chuck. I think customers absolutely have to be part of the process in terms of vetting requirements and garnering feedback. The danger, as all of you well noted, is having the customer drive the product development effort. That gets dicey because as Steve Jobs well noted, customers can't envision the next great product innovation. They can tell you what they like and don't like regarding existing capabilities, but they can't see the future.

Lauren Muskett
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Re: Innovative innovaton
Lauren Muskett   11/18/2011 12:48:07 PM
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Good point, Beth. Customer feedback is great from the standpoint of finding out what they think works or doesn't work, but the designer is the one making the future product. 

Charles Murray
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Quiet observation
Charles Murray   11/18/2011 4:55:17 PM
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It's also worth mentioning that design engineers say they need to be careful in the kind of information they take from consumers. Consumers often don't know what they want and several designers told us they worry about customers "giving answers that they think we want to hear." Cadillac's engineers and designers made a point of sitting in the back seat and quitely watching, rather than asking questions.

JimT@Future-Product-Innovations
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The Cadillac Design Research Team shows Best Practices
JimT@Future-Product-Innovations   11/20/2011 5:20:29 PM
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What The Cadillac design team did was excellent Market research, and is exemplary of what every new product development effort should tackle, but seldom does.  The “end-users” of the product will intuitively know what works for them, and will always have suggestions like; “It would be great if you had a gizmo that could ….. “.  These types of suggestions are considered “need-based” and not necessarily innovation solutions; rather just problem statements.  Our job as the design (and market-research) teams is to embrace those needs and then invent the innovation solutions.  What mature design engineers and seasoned market research professionals need to look past, are the silly comments made by the focus-group-participants.   For example, during one long-past focus study group I managed before the commercial release of Smart-Phones (circa 2002) we provided one real working smartphone prototype, plus 3 other non-working balsa-wood industrial design models offering various form-factor solutions.  Without exception, every group participant commented on how much more desirable the light-weight design models were, over the actual working prototype.  Well, duh.  But the message was clear. The all liked “lighter” over the actual clunky working prototype.  If nothing else, it pointed the design efforts of the subsequent years into more exotic and lighter materials.  All good inputs.  All good things.

Beth Stackpole
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Re: The Cadillac Design Research Team shows Best Practices
Beth Stackpole   11/21/2011 6:54:17 AM
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@JimT: The actual interpretation of what users are saying about what they actually want and need in a product is the gold standard, as you well point out, Jim. I think that's the best practice that really differentiates  the Cadillac Design Research Team and the smart phone example you cited. It's a great skill to be able to translate those subtle nuances around behavior and what wasn't said into tangible product requirements and innovations that resonate as opposed to being sidetracked by the obvious wish-lists and complaints that customers actively verbalize.

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