by Fabian Sautier — 11 September 2016
Product Development is a highly complex metier. A product developer needs to master various skills in order to be successful: creativity to come up with surprising ideas, consumer understanding and vision to create something that people will want and need, project management to drive the development from ideation to realization, ... the list goes on and on and on.
So one might thing that a great product developer with all those skills makes a great product. My experience says otherwise. While it is important to be creative, understand consumers, manage projects efficiently, none of them guarantee the development of an amazing new product.
Yet, when looking at some of the most exceptional consumer products that have been developed over the past decade, their success can be essentially pinned down to two elements: engaging storytelling and humanizing design.
Let me establish those two elements.
Engaging storytelling is the precise opposite of a hard sell. It is not about bluntly pushing a value proposition towards a potential target in order to convert them into customers.
Engaging storytelling it is about establishing an emotional connection with someone by explaining why a product simply makes sense. It is not about pushing your product towards someone, but reaching over to someone with a captivating story so that the person feels emotionally attracted and decides to come over to your side.
Engaging storytelling takes the focus away from the product and puts it on the customer. The story is no longer about what the product can do, but what about you can do with the product. Engaging storytelling is about selling through empowerment.
Humanizing design is design that goes beyond its functional role. More than efficient, flawless and frictionless, it simplifies the product and makes it intuitive to use. Just like engaging storytelling it creates a connection with the user and puts him or her at the center of the experience.
It is about redefining the way someone interacts with the product and eventually with the world, because humanizing design is not only about a 1:1 relationship between someone and the product, but about a 1:1:many-relationship between someone, the product and the other people it enables to interact with, which eventually makes it beautiful, elegant design.
Two examples of very prominent consumer products can illustrate this theory.
Let’s take the iPhone, probably the most successful consumer product over the last decade, and the most written about. The reasons of success are manifold, they are technological, marketing, perfectly melting hardware, software and service into one singular consumer experience.
Yet, the fundamental underlying product-intrinsic success factors lie within the way the iPhone story creates an emotional and in the way the design enables a human experience.
The iPhone product storytelling is about all the great things that you can do with an iPhone. It was conceived to give you a multitude of new powers: an instant and everywhere connection to people and digital world, creative and productive on-the-go powers for people who create, take photographs, film or work with their iPhone and many more. The iPhone story is one about empowering people, a perfect example of engaging storytelling.
The iPhone design has been a huge leap in humanizing consumer products. The human finger becomes the control center of the device, the human fingerprint unlocks it, the human voice commands it.
The iPhone has been embraced by senior customers due to its simplifying user experience. The world’s most advanced mobile phone was simply designed as the world’s most intuitive phone. It has completely changed the way people interact with a phone and eventually with the world, thanks to its profoundly humanizing design.
The second example is a product that just hit the market and which I believe is going to be a blockbuster product in its category: IKEA’s Sladda bike.
Now how can one create engaging storytelling about a bike, which is nothing but a saddle on two wheels allowing you to move quickly from one place to the other? Well, IKEA just did. The story of Sladda it not a bike story. It is the story of accompanying the ever-increasing urbanization of human life while being sustainable. Sounds a bit more exciting than a bike, right?
The Saddle story starts with the observation of humans and the fact that increasing urbanization will ultimately require smarter mobility solutions. Many people will want to move faster and easier in continuously more crowded cities.
The Saddle story continues by explaining that these smarter solutions by definition have to be environmentally sustainable and that they must not create any pollution. Basically the Saddle story is not about the Saddle product, but about why Saddle was created and what you will be able to do with it. Perfectly executed engaging storytelling.
A look at Saddle’s design reveals its humanizing character: so durable it has a 25-year warranty; light because it’s made of aluminum; chainless so you never get your hands dirty; intelligent because the gears adapt automatically to your riding style; modular thanks "clip-on" design for baskets and tow carts; and it’s universal in terms of usability and visual design – for women and men alike. A masterpiece of intuitive, consumer-centric design.
Saddle is just starting to be commercialized so the success remains to be seen at this point in time, yet from the testing that I was able to do with it, I’m rather convinced that it will be sold out quickly.
While the perspective of “engaging storytelling” and humanizing design might hold up for these two consumer products, you might want to add something or disagree. We would love to hear your perspective in the comment section below.
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