Saturday, January 14, 2012

Create what you love or what other people love?

We have often heard the advice to young writers, "write what you know and write what you want to read". This may be useful advice for writers but is it applicable to design? It is a conversation that I have with my students in terms of defining design as a service versus design as self expression. In talking with clients I often find the conversation coming around to this issue of "point of view" on how they develop new products or services. The conversation goes something like this:

Me: So, what do you think your customers see in the work you do?
Client: Well they like what we like. We built this company around our passion for the thing we make and a number of people asked, "how do I get one?", and the rest is history.

Me: How do you now tap into other things those same people like to expand your business?
Client: (paraphrase) We do what we did before and make what we love, and they will like it too.

I am always surprised to hear that companies are willing to bet that lightning will strike twice. They are also willing to forgo all they have learned or been told about understanding audiences and working from a user center perspective. Often they believe they are working with the user in mind but have suffered from a psychological bait-and-switch. "Our customers like what we offer so we must have understood what they wanted and filled that desire". In fact that is not the whole truth of the matter. Many businesses started off with a product or service that filled a need because the audience found it, not the the other way around. Products and service that do go out and find their audiences have an advantage of going through the process of positioning and fine tuning to the needs of the audience, but even that can have specific audience data of a particular product. It does not lead that audiences are understood because they like this particular product. Audience analysis requires both micro and macro perspectives to get a full view of who those people are. People come together around a product and service for different reasons but are seen from a marketing stand point as being similar. If you define these audiences as a collective the next proposed idea probably will only appeal to a small segment of this group. How often have we seen the sequel not do as well as the debut. Yes, some of it has to do with rushing the product to market, and not having the same originality of the first, or sadly just trying to milk something that has run its course, but often it has to do with assuming the same audience who liked the first will like the second product. Why, because they are the same people? Looking at smaller segments as discreet/overlapping groups of people will offer more insight into who may be interested in what. This is not a new concept it is just an observation of businesses failing to stay innovative after having success. Duplicating success is difficult and fresh points of view are always good. Change the dynamics of the conversation by bringing in someone new to the conversation. Maybe its a client you didn't know you would attract, maybe its a customer you want to attract, or maybe its just shaking up the meeting of the usual suspects and re-looking at the audience data and separating them into discrete groups based on unrelated interests rather than your product that brought them all together.