Posts tagged “customers”

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • Airwalk footwear – In the mid-90's, Mann left the company. After his departure, the decision was made to "go mainstream" and focus on a more general audience rather than just creating shoes for sport enthusiasts. There was a brief rise in sales, but some people loyal to the brand found the mainstream designs questionable.
  • What happens when underground brands go mainstream – Wharton marketing professors David Reibstein and John Zhang have been exploring how early adopters react when a product goes mass-market. When is there a backlash? When do early adopters switch to new products and when do they stick with the brand?
  • Personas for Firefox | Dress up your web browser – Finally, a definition I can live with: Personas are lightweight, easy-to-install and easy-to-change "skins" for your Firefox web browser.

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • Listening to customer feedback? Twenty-Five Years of Post-it Notes (Thx, @susandra) – In '77, 3M decided to test-market. It failed to ignite interest. “When we did the follow-up research, there just weren’t a lot of people saying this was a product they wanted.”
    "We knew the test markets failed, but we just kept saying, ‘Maybe it was us. Maybe we did something wrong. Because it couldn’t be the product—the product was great.”
    To see for themselves how people responded to Post-it Notes, 2 execs cold-called offices, giving away samples and showing people how to use 'em. The responses were more enthusiastic. “Those things really were like cocaine. You got them into somebody’s hands, and they couldn’t help but play around with them.”
    1 more test was in order. They got newspapers to run stories about it. They festooned stationery stores with banner displays and point-of-purchase materials. 1000s of samples were sent to office managers, purchasing agents, lawyers, etc. People demonstrated it to potential customers. It was a huge success, and 3M decided to launch Post-Its.
  • Listening to customer feedback? Peter Arnell Explains Failed Tropicana Package Design – Big outcry over the Tropicana packaging design (which this suggests was NOT tested but that's hard to believe) led to a return to the previous packaging.
  • Listening to customer feedback? Malcolm Gladwell on the Aeron chair – The Aeron chair was originally despised and deemed ugly. It didn’t catch on for 2 years, and then it quickly became the most popular chair. Everyone came to love it. Gladwell concludes that people find responses about some topics extremely difficult to articulate. While they may think they dislike something (like the Aeron chair), in their hearts they may actually like it. There is a disconnect that causes people to express dislike in their heads while they actually like it in their hearts (and vice versa).
  • Listening to customer feedback? Hate Facebook's new look? You'll like it soon enough. – Slate advances the point that people react to change negatively but eventually get used to the change and make it work.
  • Listening to customer feedback? Problems With NBC’s ‘Parks & Recreation’ – When do you listen to negative feedback and when do you follow your vision? I think there's an important middle-ground that is often ignored: understanding what lies beneath that feedback and choosing carefully if and how to respond to it, or how to create supporting activities that help get over the barriers that the rejection points to

Jimmyjane’s Sex Change Operation

(Originally posted on Core77)

Ethan Imboden worked as an industrial designer for firms like Ecco and frogdesign, cranking out designs for everyday products (i.e., staplers and monitors), but grew to feel that he had something more to contribute. After starting his own design firm, he went with a client to the Adult Novelty Expo and saw bad design everywhere. He founded Jimmyjane as a response to that, and set out to use form, color, materials and so on to create premium vibrators. Now he’s a visionary creative, with strong ideas about the Jimmyjane brand and how to embody those attributes across a range of products. Imboden fits the Be A Genius and Get It Right archetype we wrote about in interactions. At least, if they are doing as well as they indicated during our recent visit, then they are “getting it right.” But we couldn’t help but wonder if there wasn’t more that they could be doing.

In addition to vibrators, Jimmyjane sells other products intended to bring sex, sexy, and sexuality forward. They’ve got candles with a spout so you can pour out melted lotiony goo for a sexy massage, heating tray doodads for the same goo that double as massagers, feel-good and smell-good lotions, etc. etc. They’ve got a soft eye mask with an embroidered Z on one side and an embroidered heart on the other: wear the mask with the Z outside when you want to sleep; put the heart on the outside to announce your interest in blindfold panky.


Despite claims that the name Jimmyjane represents their intent to serve everyone, the product line leans heavily towards the feminine, and appears in retail at places like Sephora. Meanwhile, limited-edition vibrators laser-etched with work by named artists, or covered in diamonds or platinum obviously serve an extremely narrow range of customers.


Considering all this, Jimmyjane starts to emerge as a Victoria’s Secret-meets-Harley brand. They play around the edge of naughty: you can’t buy the vibrators at Whole Foods, but you can pick up some candles. The Jimmyjane retail display in Whole Foods lets shoppers have a private bit of shocked delight when we can connect a everday purchase in a grocery store to a risque activity – and needn’t ever engage in that risque activity ourselves to get that little buzz. We can buy a Harley leash for our dog, or a wallet, or cross-brand for our truck, and get a taste of the Harley feeling without engaging in the core activity: driving a Softtail. That public/private sauciness was a driver of Victoria’s Secret growth; here, instead of underwear, Imboden is offering the halo effect of vibrators.

We saw their Theory of Everything Venn diagram that tries to map candle scents to emotional attributes of attraction, thus creating a product line logic that is slightly arrogant in its delusions of grandeur. Being led by design instead of the customer need starts to isolate the vision from reality and from bolder and bigger possibilities. Imboden told us that they don’t want to be evangelists who try to convert people to use vibrators, etc. But we asked if they were trying to lower barriers and we were met with a puzzled stare.


But Jimmyjane (or someone else who sees the opporunity) has huge potential to do some more barrier lowering. They’ve already done a tremendous reframe of sex toys from dangerous, cheap, embarrassing crap, to high-end, well-designed chic. But they are toying with reframing sexuality as part of our culture, by bringing bits and pieces of it from the backstage to the frontstage.


To grow the market (and thus their business) by bringing more people into this realm means seeing the opportunity for barrier-lowering and then doing the hard work it will take to understand how all their customers (current and potential) are perceiving those barriers. But Jimmyjane has a limited customer feedback loop (consisting of input from retailers and Ask Jimmyjane on their website). We heard about the packaging for the Rabbit vibrator (a product Jimmyjane did not design, but is selling, or as they put it, curating): because they plan for customers to have a great out-of-box experience, all products are cleaned and stocked with batteries before shipping (and the batteries are separated by a small pull-tab so they don’t run down before purchase). But they heard that customers were taking the Rabbit out of its box and after seeing that it had batteries in it assumed that it was used. Yuck! They are now redesigning the packaging to display the batteries and give the purchaser the opportunity to load the batteries themselves: it’s add-an-egg for the new millennium.


That’s a simple usability failure and it’s easily fixed, once discovered. But it suggests potential mismatches between how Jimmyjane conceives of and produces products and how customers are buying and using products (and that’s just the ones who are buying). The opportunity for growth, by revisiting what sexuality means and how products can support it, is enormous, and the possibility of Sexual Revolution 2.0, a world where sex, sexuality, and sexiness might be experienced on both sides of the green door in a more fun and carefree manner, is well within reach for a firm that has already done so much.

Listening vs. Hearing

In Fast Company’s Green Guru Gone Wrong there’s a sobering examination of sustainability architect William McDonough and the work that he’s doing. I am sure this type of investigation is highly contentious, especially when icons like McDonough are revealed to be less-than-perfect.

But it’s interesting to note that some the project failures are tied to a dramatic lack of understanding of the current behaviors and future needs of target customers.

Shannon May smelled the rot firsthand. An anthropology PhD student from UC Berkeley who lived in Huangbaiyu for nearly two years, May first met McDonough in 2005, the year the project broke ground. But within several months, it became apparent to May that everything from the village’s overall design to its construction was deeply flawed. The homes were suburban-tract style with garages, despite the fact that only four of the expected 1,400 villagers had cars. The backyards were too small for growing feed corn or raising animals, which the villagers needed to make their living. But most absurd to her eye was the plan to use agricultural waste to fuel the biogas plant to power the village: leftover corncobs and stalks were the winter food supply for the cashmere goats, the area’s leading source of cash. Using them meant the goats would starve.

“I started calling Bill and telling him these things, and he would be very responsive and concerned on the phone,” says May, the blonde seen standing behind McDonough in Friedman’s documentary. “What troubled me was that it was as if he knew nothing about the way these people lived. And he seemed concerned, but then nothing would happen after these phone calls.” May says McDonough visited the village only twice while she lived there “for one or two hours at a time, and only when there was a video camera following him.” The supposedly $3,500 homes were costing nearly $12,000 to build, more than 10 times the villagers’ median income. By 2006, only two families had moved in, and they did so because their previous homes had burned down. Even then, they had to use antiquated heating rigs because the renewable energy systems didn’t work.

And even more interesting is that the failure isn’t about a lack of information about these customers, it’s a failure of process to integrate that information into the project decisions.

Get our latest article: Some Different Approaches to Making Stuff


My latest interactions column, Some Different Approaches to Making Stuff, has just been published.

I propose an incomplete framework for how companies go about making stuff (products, services, miscellaneous). In characterizing this as incomplete, I hope to hear about other approaches that will flesh out the framework.

  1. Be a Genius and Get It Right
  2. Be a Genius and Get It Wrong
  3. Don’t Ask Customers If This Is What They Want
  4. Do Whatever Any Customer Asks
  5. Understand Needs and Design to Them

Get a PDF of the article here. To receive a copy of the article, send an email to steve AT portigal DOT com and (if you haven’t given us this info before) tell us your name, organization, and title. We’ll send you a PDF.
Other articles

Design and Research had a baby and they called it . . .

Sketches for “Personal Greenhouse” ¬©2007 Dan Soltzberg

Debbie Millman and Mike Bainbridge have posted their article, Design Meets Research, over at Gain: AIGA Journal of Design & Business. The piece provides a quick overview of various tools in the research toolbox, calls out their particular strengths and drawbacks, and makes the point that picking the right tool for the job and using it well are paramount.

Here are a couple of quotes from the article and some of my thoughts in response:

There are a wide variety of research techniques that can have merit for designers. . . There is not, repeat not, one correct way to test design.

I see research very much as a generative tool as well as an evaluative one, and have started to question whether the concept of a border between research and design is really accurate or productive. At the front end of the design process, research is a way of surfacing opportunities and generating ideas. At later stages, it’s a way of refining and validating these ideas as they become concepts and prototypes. In this way, research is a design tool in the same way that drawing is a design tool, except that at the center of the mechanism is the customer/user.

When used correctly, research shouldn’t stifle creativity but rather offer designers stronger inspiration and focus.

By taking a facilitative, collaborative approach to working with companies and design teams, research and research findings can be integrated into the design process in ways that enhance rather than stifle creativity. Keeping the customer/user and their needs prominent throughout the design process needn’t be limiting–having clear goals and constraints ultimately makes a design problem more interesting and leads to better, more elegant solutions.

And better, more elegant solutions are, after all, the end game here.

Designing TV Brands and Experiences

Boiled down from a bullet-pointy Fast Company piece that is heavy on highlight but makes me hunger for details.

Get more people to tune in to Court TV

The key has been to think like a consumer-products marketer…create a clear identity for each network.

Research revealed that the viewers of Court TV’s prime-time shows include two main groups: mystery solvers, typically women ages 25 to 54 who enjoy piecing together a story to solve a problem, and “real engagers,” young men who like true stories that take them places they wouldn’t otherwise go.

[So,] change the name. Court TV evokes images of criminals. The channel will relaunch as truTV.

Before truTV debuts, Koonin will send researchers into the homes of target viewers to gather information, much as Intuit famously does with its software.

A seat at the table

You may have already seen this proposed seat layout around the blogosphere. It appears today in USATODAY

PAIG and its design partner, Acumen, used experts from 12 major international carriers as a focus group in developing the seats. None of those 12 – which Bettell said he can’t identify because of non-disclosure agreements – has placed an order yet.

This raises an issue well articulated by Graham Marshall at the IDSA SHIFT event this past weekend…that in many business situations, the people being designed for aren’t just the end user, but include partners, and customers (where customers refers to the company who buys the product, such as Target, UPS, or United Airlines). Of course, as Graham made clear, it’s crucial to develop with and for all those groups. Here we’ve got a story about a company that ran (yuk) focus groups with the airlines only. Sure, those people have asses and backs, so they could try the seats out (assuming the focus group went full-out and had model seats that could be experienced) but they are not the ultimate user of the seats. It seems that doesn’t really matter at this stage of the process! You’ll sit in ’em and you’ll like ’em!

Tempests and teapots, maybe

The whole back-and-forth on Are Designers The Enemy Of Design? doesn’t engage me all that much, but I did of course really like this quote from Bruce Nussbaum

This statement goes way behind “design.” Corporations have to bring consumers deep inside the walls of of the business process to participate in the development and design of new products, services and experiences. They have to curate conversations with their customers and really listen and learn from them.

Curate is an interesting verb. I can never tell if someone is being pretentious when they insert it in a context I don’t expect it, or if there is a wholly different intent behind it.

Now that’s passion for customer satisfaction

A number of months ago we had an unfortunate experience at the usually stupendous local restaurant, Cafe Gibraltar. Our reservation, made long in advance for dinner with out-of-town visitors, evaporated. The error was theirs but I was made to feel as if I was somehow in the wrong, and it really created some awkwardness on what was supposed to be a special dinner.

I wrote a letter about it and didn’t hear back until recently. But wow, what a response!

Some times we make mistakes, as is human, but not properly dealing with our mistakes is unacceptable. We are only as good as those who represent us.

Seemed a good time to post a great apology after Sunday’s NYT piece about the Southwest employee who is in charge of writing apology letters to passengers – the “senior manager of proactive customer communications.”

Wal-Mart dramatically retargets (ahem) based on user research

In today’s New York Times

There are “brand aspirationals” (people with low incomes who are obsessed with names like KitchenAid), “price-sensitive affluents” (wealthier shoppers who love deals), and “value-price shoppers” (who like low prices and cannot afford much more).

The new categories are significant because for the first time, Wal-Mart thinks it finally understands not just how people shop at its stores, but why they shop the way they do.

Of course those segment labels are dehumanizing and unpleasant, but the source for this new understanding, years of in-depth studies with customers, must have been some very insightful research. Congrats to friends who I presume were the ones that actually did that research (even though they’ve moved on from Wal-Mart)!

Update: The friends disclaim any credit for this work!
Update2: This leaked PPT presumably explains their methodology.

37 Signals responds

37Signals responds to my earlier posting (about their mocking of customer feedback on their blog). I’m resposting it here.

I’m the author of the post at Signal vs. Noise.

We didn’t ridicule/mock our customers with this post nor did we intend to. We used our customers own words. We quoted directly. If you feel that quoting someone directly is equivalent to mocking them…well, we disagree.

This is disingenuous. As one example (and there are millions), go watch The Daily Show – it makes extensive use of direct quotes, but the mocking is quite evident. What is said before and after, and what pieces are chosen are highly editorial decisions that convey a point of view. Don’t you know this?

Fwiw, we don’t think the requests were stupid and we do value customer feedback. We showed theses comments so people can see the different realities that exist for individual customers vs. companies vs. the customer base as a whole.

Why share this info at all? The truth is these sorts of conversations are happening all the time in companies all over. Is it better that they be hidden from the public or is it better to have an open, honest dialogue about them?

Why the forced choice question? There are more than two options. For example, the option you guys chose. That wasn’t an “open, honest dialogue” by any means. Why not invite those individuals to participate, let alone consent, if you want such a dialogue?

Virtual Anthropology

Virtual Anthropology is the mini-meme of the moment, I guess – a post from Trendwatching that highlights all the ways you can, from the comfort of your desk, learn about what people around the world are doing, photographing, wearing, buying, etc.

As usual, when you read about a shortcut to actual research written by someone who really has no clue about doing real research, they omit the valuable part – asking questions. Asking why! What is the meaning of the clothing you wear? Tell me a story about why you’ve got those items in your fridge?

It takes skill to unearth the insights – you can’t start and finish with self-reported data. Otherwise, you’re just a step above a mood board or something artifact-based. Insights come from people – from interacting with people, dynamically. Not simply observing their shit.

I feel like a broken record on this one, but whatever.


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