Giving a Gift They Actually Want

Interesting post from Bruce Nussbaum pitching ideas from his latest book ‘Creative Intelligence’. In it, he talks about how very often we get things backwards in the design process. We create something we think is neat and then bestow it as a gift to the masses. Except that they don’t always share our values or priorities which frequently results in dud products. (His example is Microsoft’s Windows 8 and how poorly it’s been received.) The bottom line is that this approach misses out on the opportunity to serve our customers by designing to solve their specific needs.

Now admittedly, I haven’t read his book yet (it’s in the long queue of books to read…), but at face value I’m not sure I agree with his assessment. To say this ‘gift model’ doesn’t work is only partly true. Yes, blindly throwing ideas or products over the wall to consumers is a recipe for a lot of disappointing product launches and burned R&D dollars. But I think most would also agree that using focus groups to dictate what you should build next is dangerous at best. It comes down to using the right tool for the right job.

You really do want to talk to those end users / customers / etc. It’s just that you have to focus on asking the right types of questions in those interactions. Those conversations are opportunities to connect and better understand the customer’s needs (especially the ones they struggle to articulate or even see). The point where this goes off the rails is when you start asking them to design the solutions. That’s our job. 1 And that, right there, is the opportunity for real innovation. We build empathy and understanding for their needs and then apply our expertise and creativity towards building things that meet those needs in helpful ways.

  1. Although there are plenty of exceptions where those customers can come up with some downright genius ideas.