What Customer Wants

A sales manager was deciding which of two salespeople to recruit. Passing over a ball point pen, he said, “Sell me one of these.”

The first salesperson took the pen, examined it and said, “This is a very good pen. You will note the transparent barrel which indicates the color of the ink as well as showing when it is about to run out. There is a stopper at the end to prevent the ink seeping out. The top fits well on the pen and covers the nib so that you can clip it in your inside pocket without fearing ink will stain your shirt. When you remove the top, it fits neatly on the other end so ensuring that you do not lose it. It also balances the pen well for writing.”

The sales manager was impressed and passed the pen to the second salesperson. He took it, snapped it in half and said, “You need a new pen.”

Source: Ken Langdon | TheWorkingManager

Eye for details?

They say that if you get too much into the details, you will miss the bigger picture. Perhaps, that is right. But that doesnt mean that you cannot be creative. If you have an eye for the details, or you are a keen observer of the facts, then wouldnt you naturally see the missing facts as well? Isnt that one of the key of solving a problem (ever read Sherlock Holmes)? Will that also be an inventive, or innovative way to see what’s missing on the planet? Isnt that what we call creative?

Who was that said, “God is in the details”? I would add to that: “God is in the non-details as well”. (Aw, did I just prove that God is everywhere? I hate relational algebra, but I love indexed)

Leading the Mainstream

Many of us often customize a product to suite our special needs. There are always people who keep pushing the envelope, to extract more juice from what’s available. Such people are called lead users. (Eric Hippel from MIT coined the term in 1986. Read more about it here and here

People, or companies watch lead users. Many a times, observing lead users is a way to improve your product, or even come up with new products. It may appear to be a rare usage by small group, but the potential of an unexplored market is huge. All one needs to do is convert such use cases to accommodate normal users. Usually, mainstream users do not know how to demand something that is not there.

Some of the lead usage can directly translate to mainstream, while some may require core changes. Take for example ABS, anti-lock braking system. Guess who was the lead user for ABS? Airplanes! Of course, what else one needs to stop without skidding, than the 200′ long, 200′ wide, 400 tonne flying giant? ABS quickly made its way into other fast moving objects like race cars, and eventually became a standard safety feature in any automobile.

In the above case, adaptation into mainstream happened without any change. Which may not be the case with some other products, like say, energy bar – a high protein food devised by top athletes to infuse max energy in the shortest/fastest way. If companies had introduced it as is into mainstream, it would have flopped badly because protein bars tasted like shit. Athletes didn’t bother about the taste and probably swallowed it! It served a different purpose. So, companies reworked the formula to add cocoa and sugar into energy bars to make them best sellers in literally no time!

Every lead usage need not translate into a successful product. Some of the brilliant ideas may not even see the common light. But communities like open source software take a very Freudian approach to the concept of lead users – allow anyone to lead the changes, and let the best survive. IMO, best of both worlds.

So, the next time you are customizing anything because it doesn’t serve your need as is, do a bit more – think how useful it would be if everyone knew about it.

Applied Art vs Design

How different is applied art from design? Art fundamentally is a form of expression while a design has to communicate. But applied art has many characteristics that are similar to design – one of them is the context of application. Medium where the art is applied holds the same amount of constraints and makes it contextual, just like in design. How does one explain this?

Let’s take a cell phone. The concept of a cell phone, simplified, is a device for communication. Now try mapping the levels of cell phone concepts to that of art.

How a cell phone works and what it contains – its fundamentals, is equivalent to fine art. The core concepts of art, such as materials, usage, medium, is applicable to cell phone as well.

Similarly, the different models and features of a cell phone, that abstracts the fundamentals can be mapped to abstract art?

And, when a cell phone is applied to a context – usage by elderly, say – it becomes equivalent to applied art. Some call it design for context, or emotion. I just call it user centered design.

I have not studied art to really stand by these definitions, I am just looking at this from an eye of a designer. But this surely does explain why designers often can sustain a conversation in applied arts, and to certain extent on abstract art, they fail to stay on board when it comes to fine arts. I do not want to say that designers lack fundamentals, but the most important aspect of design and usability is the context and usage, which matches quite well with applied arts.

Style by John Mayer

John Mayer got his new $3m 2500 sqft NYC pad decorated by none other than Giorgio Armani! Gives him the right to define style? Sure does. “After I finally figured out how to behave, and how to dress, I wanted to get the next thing—my apartment—right. It’s the last piece of the style puzzle.”

Trend Directories

I have been spending hours and hours on LivingEtc, DesignSponge, ApartmentTherapy, DesireToInspire in the past few months. All brilliant blogs on design and style, inspiring a whole bunch of folks who love modernism. But one thing that these sites largely miss is design for outdoors. I am yet to find a dedicated blog on outdoors, but Trendir has a rich section on outdoors. And some of the best bathroom pics on the net.

What I liked about the brilliant galleries at LivingEtc is that they show only a few lead photos, than a flood of pictures that leaves nothing left to imagination, like AT. Some may want to see all and see the obvious as well, but I like the ‘teasing’ nature of LivingEtc. Exercise your imagination!

Living with Modernism

I am looking to buy this rocker. Sells on eBay for $249. Is it possible to locate one in India? Anything molded, and what people call, old, is what I am looking for. I hope to get them cheap as well.

Saving the world

At work, no one bets on world peace. Let me explain. You may want to do the right thing, though at times it is not possible. So as Kafka said, we all want to start with what is right, not what’s possible. The PM or Director will then say, “Let’s not aim for world peace…”, or “In a perfect world, yes. But…” So who else is trying to save the world? Apartment Therapy. Their tagline says it all — saving the world, one room at a time.