Posts tagged “ipod”

From Pain Points to Opportunity Areas

The subtle difference between a knob and a lever.

An unexpected interaction with a familiar object.

At a restaurant in San Mateo, the knob from a stove replaces the toilet flush lever. Each of us who use the toilet that evening come back to the table struck by what an unexpectedly pleasant experience it is to turn the knob.

As a researcher or designer, you are not going get to this surprisingly delightful interaction if you constrain your thinking around the idea of pain points – i.e. what is not working for people. Of course no one is going to buy your company’s toilet if it leaks or doesn’t flush – products need to perform their primary functions reasonably well – and as part of an exploration of user experience it’s necessary to find out whether this is indeed the case. But if you are laser-focused on the question “What’s not working for you?” you’ll miss all sorts of opportunities.

In our research engagements we like to include discussion with people about the things in their lives that are working really well for them – inside and outside the focus areas of the project. By figuring out what’s at the heart of these interactions, we might learn, for example, something about the way a service works that we can apply to the development of a product. Or a person might say “I just love the way the big chunky knobs on my Viking stove feel.” And it might be the transposition of this small finding in an ideation session that helps our client go on and create innovative toilets.

We encourage our clients to move from focusing on pain points to thinking about Opportunity Areas. We use what we learn out in the field to point them in promising directions, with a focus on asking “How can we __________ ?”

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • Griffin designers explain their product development process – An idea that passes the initial "sniff test" gets assigned to a Category Manager, who shepherds it through a more formal proof-of-concept process. They discuss it with industrial designers, engineers, user researchers, the sales team, even packaging. The goal is to thoroughly vet the product to make sure that it's a good fit with our customers, our capabilities, our strategic priorities, our distribution channels and our financial requirements, before it gets the green light for resources to be allocated.
    (via Core77)

User Research for Belkin’s GoStudio

We were excited recently to see the New York Times review of Belkin’s GoStudio portable audio recorder. We led some early user research with target customers that informed Belkin’s overall strategy for this product.

Among other things, our work revealed that people didn’t associate the iPod with the high quality audio they expected a recording device to deliver. As well, the iPod is rarely seen an ingredient technology for another experience; rather most accessories add on to the iPod, and convey that message through form, finish, interface, and even their overall story. We identified that Belkin had two paths they could go by: either embrace the iPod (as in iHome and other iPoddy products) or deny the iPod (and create their own visual and task language). It’s great to see that Belkin’s final design emphasized the aesthetics of professional audio gear. In fact, the New York Times picked up on this embrace/deny tension in their headline: Another Use for the iPod – As a Memory Card.

Trend Ecosystem

It’s fascinating how most successful products lead to an ecosystem of supporting products. The Crocs fad has provided the fan-base to support charms, little decorations that attach to the holes on the shoe’s surface and let the wearer further establish their individual identity within the trend of people who have established a unique identity by wearing Crocs in the first place.

Acknowledging that following a trend has a very different meaning in Japan, we bring you the Crocs family, who we saw on a bus in Kyoto, each with their own charms.





In addition to aftermarket personalization, many trends also generate a safety backlash meme (iPod muggings, anyone?). In Taipei, it’s dangerous to wear Crocs on escalators.

Manufacturers like Apple are very savvy about creating/controlling their aftermarket, but I wonder about the backlashes. Are PR people planting those stories or doing damage control or not realizing their significance?

Update: Karl Long on the Crocs backlash (safety and others) here

Kawaii Superheroes

We saw these kawaii decals for sale in Tokyo. According to the in-store display, they are intended for mobile phones and iPods, but could go on anything.

I was amazed to see the familiar and consistent visual brands of Marvel superheroes so dramatically localized, reflecting the Japanese kawaii (“cute”) aesthetic by infantilizing Wolverine, Spiderman, and the Hulk.

namespace iNcursion

Not quite sure it’s really a new story, but still amusing/disappointing to read about the lower case leading i and its incursion into branding and naming

Just about anywhere consumers look, they will find products, brands and other commercial offerings that begin with a lowercase “i,” inspired by popular technology names like iMac, iPhone, iPod and iVillage. [Which of these things is not like the other? Although the article later points out that iVillage came before iPod — SP]

A contest sponsored by the Friendly’s restaurant chain, for instance, is called iScream. A television show that made its debut Tuesday night on ABC is titled “i-Caught.”

Other examples include iWireless, a line of prepaid cellphones available at Kroger supermarkets; iCare, a brand of liquid hand sanitizers; iBoxer, underwear with pockets for MP3 players, sold by the Play division of Intimo; and i-Report, video clips contributed by viewers of CNN and visitors to the Web site.

“It’s a nice strategy for borrowing some equity” from the better-known i-brands, said Michael Cucka, a partner at Group 1066, a consulting company in New York specializing in corporate identity and branding.

“It seems to work because you’re associating yourself with the idea of trying to be cool,” he added.

“But when you start to do what everyone is doing, you start to lose the power of borrowing that equity,” Mr. Cucka said. “And perhaps the more people who do it, the less cool it becomes.” [Umm, yeah, can you say “i-played-out?” — SP]

The piece also acknowledges the earlier trends for e-names and even u-names.

Quoted in today’s Boston Globe

I’m quoted in today’s Boston Globe

NEW YORK – To those who dwell in the design universe, Apple Computer has accomplished the near-impossible: making nerdy computing products seem hip and friendly.Sleek, ergonomic, and accessible, first their computers and now their iPods have gained raves and a cult following, and they have brought terms like ‘nano’ out of geekdom and into everyday use. ‘I think every designer in the world has been in a meeting where someone announces that their printer, toaster, telephone, breakfast cereal should become the iPod of its category,’ says Steve Portigal of Portigal Consulting, a California firm specializing in design and business strategy.

Now, with the opening of an architecturally audacious retail store in Manhattan, Apple has crossed another design threshold. The Apple Store Fifth Avenue a mammoth underground docking station for Macs, iPods, and accessories has made the ultimate statement of design and product packaging by morphing the design of Apple products with the design of the building that houses them.

‘It’s difficult to think of other companies that have such design coherence,’ says Paul Thompson, director of New York’s Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum. ‘Everything comes together under one design vision. Anyway you cut the apple, design is driving it.’

Article also quoted here.

FreshMeat #21: The More The Merrier

FreshMeat #21 from Steve Portigal

               (oo) Fresh
                \\/  Meat

People, put your hands together now for FreshMeat!
There’s a party in my mind and everyone’s invited
At the dawn of the eighties, I looked towards my imminent
ritual transition to manhood – my Bar Mitzvah. My
preparations began with the acquisition of a portable
tape recorder (used for listening and practicing the
Torah portion I would eventually chant). My friends and I
immediately put this device to use, creating fake radio
programs, with interviews, songs, commercials, and
closing credits. The post-modern media parodies of
National Lampoon and Saturday Night Live were well-
established at that point, but not to a 13-year-old. To
us, presented with a new enabling technology, pretending
to be on the radio seemed the natural thing to do.

These new technologies continue to appear. Within recent
memory, some products that put previously unachievable
professional-grade abilities in the hands of ordinary
people include video cameras, desktop publishing, teeth
whitening, home theater, hairstyling products, and home
dry-cleaning. Further, consider some of the brands that
offer “professional” as part of their promise: Hummer,
Jeep, Viking, Thermador, SubZero, Bosch, Nikon, and Smart
and Final.

In our culture there is a growing interest in trying to
be like the professionals. As consumers, we’re interested
in how business is done. The popular press reports the
amount of money that a new movie makes in its opening
weekend. Advertisements (most recently Dell) profile the
product designers, user researchers, usability testers,
and others who are behind the scenes for the products we
buy. Many of the ubiquitous reality-TV shows are simply
pulling back the veil on a previously hidden process
(MTV’s Cribs documents the homes of the famous, Take This
Job- tracks the work activities of people with unique
occupations, Airline shows the minutiae of getting
passengers boarded for an on-time departure, and Family
Plots tells all about a family-owned funeral home). The
boundaries between consumer and producer continue to
blur, a change that was massively accelerated by the
Internet. For more about this, check out The Cluetrain
. Customers (really, fans) of companies form
communities to debate how those companies and their
products should evolve. For example, Google’s social
networking site Orkut includes two communities with over
1000 subscribers: What Should Google Do? and What Should
Orkut Do?

But beyond simply acting upon that sense of ownership by
talking about the companies, many people are taking
advantage of new enabling technology (i.e., Photoshop) to
go one step further – to create new “products.” And, with
a distribution channel like the Internet, they can also
share their creation with an enormous audience, just like
the professionals.

Fan-created fiction (or “Fanfic”) is artifact of fandom
in general, but the quantity and breadth of Internet
sources further demonstrates the extent of consumers
acting, literally, like producers. The “Lois and Clark”
Fanfic archive
has over 2300 stories and is updated
regularly. There are other fanfic sites devoted to NYPD
Blue, Law and Order SVU, Felicity, anime characters such
as Sailor Moon, and video games including Max Payne and
Zork. As well as many, many Star Trek sites.

Similarly, DVD Tracks is a site that was set up to host
alternative commentary tracks for DVDs, recorded as MP3
files by ordinary viewers.

For products, specifically, one of the most popular
formats for consumer-developed concepts is the parody. runs a regular forum where
participants create realistic, disturbing, obscene,
bombastic and hilarious product concepts, ads, book
covers, movie posters, and more. Check out this for
fictitious recalled food products like Nestle Boogers, or
this for fake religious toys such as Biblical MadLibs and
Erotic Dreidels.

Some people might look at those pages and groan, grimace
and think “Hardy-har, I’ve seen stuff just like that on
comedy TV shows.” That’s exactly the point! Now, ordinary
folks can create parodies of real products and services
as well as commercial media. Ironically (or
frustratingly, if you can’t handle too much recursion)
this trend was beautifully pegged in a Saturday Night
Live parody ad for computer they called McIntosh Jr.
Using the tagline “The Power to Crush the Other Kids” one
young boy earns the envy of his classmates by printing
out a fake brochure for the “pubic library.” See the ad

Beyond straight-up parodies, we can find people crafting
conceptual visions of the future. Look at this to see
wireless coffee delivery and payphones converted to
clean air dispensers, among other imaginings.

But what probably hits closest to home for many of us are
the proposed design evolutions of real products, created
by regular people. A beautiful iPod watch is here. You
can see 150 other iPod concepts – new form factors, new
finishes, skins, features, and more here.

These people obviously have real passion and enthusiasm
for the iPod. We also find a similar energy with an
eagerly anticipated product update, such as the Nintendo
DS. When the public has no idea what their future object
of desire will look like, fake images begin circulating
to feed that hunger., an excellent site for
information about the latest technology products, has
been soliciting concepts for the Nintendo DS (see some
examples here) as part of their campaign to obtain an
actual pre-release image of the product. They are even
offering a bounty (get the details here) for whoever can
provide this image.

A further variation is the how-to information created by
enthusiasts who not only share the result of their
project, but also publish detailed instructions for
others who may want to duplicate their example. They are
publishing their own designs, and the means for others to
complete that same design. Want to build a lit cityscape
for your kitchen window? See how Ryan Hoagland did it
. Mike Harrison tells you how to build a Nixie Tube
clock here. Physically modifying a PC (or “casemodding”)
has produced a entire subculture of DIY hardware
designers who no doubt are influencing manufacturers like
Alienware. See the process of building a casemod that
looks like an anime girl here, or visit to
see ultra-custom designs like a toaster, an Underwood
typerwriter, a V8 engine and others that evoke futuristic
technogeek wet dreams. The turn-your-Mac-Classic-into-an-
aquarium meme became so widespread that there is an
entire collection of Mac-based aquariums here.

Product designers may have a negative knee-jerk reaction
to all this. Who do these people think they are? Up to
this point, the limited availability of glorious tools
(and training needed to use them) placed this type of
speculative conceptual activity out of the reach of the
masses. Now the technology, if not the ability, is within
reach of millions. But for designers this is really a
“the-more-the-merrier” situation. These new enabling
technologies (i.e., PhotoShop and its brethren) further
the discourse about what is possible, and what is desired
– and that discourse is an essential ingredient in the
work we do for non-fake clients.

For example, consider how user research methods such as
participatory design (also known as PD) explicitly
harness this desire. PD asks regular people to help
design future products. The designers work directly with
users to identify needs, rapidly prototype solutions, and
iterate those solutions on-the-fly. Although some may
fear that bringing non-designers into the actual pencil-
and-paper moments of design may reduce the design to a
mere sketchmonkey, PD is not consumer-led design. The
designer takes the lead, informed by what the users know
best – the problems they have today with existing
products (of a lack of product). People will offer
alternatives to ideas suggested by designers, but the
biggest value for the designer is in understanding the
needs behind that input (i.e., it’s not clear that people
are ready for an emergency fresh air dispenser as
suggested above, but we can see the connection between
that concept and existing products such as the USB-based
personal ionizers that are sold online).

When someone says, “I want a handle,” that shouldn’t be
taken literally. The need being expressed is, “I need an
easy way to carry this device into another room.” The
designer is not simply implementing a wish-list but is
actively translating and transforming. That is what they
do best: act as a magic engine that takes in needs and
spits out wants – in a way that solves the need. No one
really “needs” an iPod watch, but they may “want” one.
Some people want one badly enough to create a picture of
what it would be like!

Participatory design is a significant shift in how we
approach user research – instead of focusing on the
problem we are now working with users to develop the
solutions. Of course, in the process of creating
products, needs, wants, and solutions are often just
proxies for each other as we struggle to articulate half-
baked ideas. But half-baked ideas are artifacts of the
creative process. It’s exciting that these regular people
are already creating partially cooked concepts on their
own, without a client, without a PD session, without a
designer, or a facilitator. For the designer who seeks to
center their solutions in the world of the user, rest
assured that the users are already headed out to meet you

If we ever wanted proof that such a thing is possible,
that everyone really is a designer, we need look no
further than these impassioned expressions of desire to
be involved with products we love.

A similar version of this article appears on the Core77
Industrial Design Supersite
. Check it out, with pictures
and everything, here.


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