Innovating Designed Products and Experiences

by Jeffrey Phillips

Innovating Designed Products and ExperiencesThere’s a good, short recent article in the Irish Independent which states that people want designed, not designer products. While I doubt that many people are going to rush out and give up their BMW cars or Breitling watches, I suspect that the notion of “designed” products, services and experiences is really the next big opportunity for innovation. And the real opportunity isn’t in the designed product as much as it is in the designed service and experience.

We still live in a mass customization world, so while your product may be mass produced it can be customized, and perhaps even designed, for you or someone like you, in your particular segment or market. What I believe can be even more readily designed, however, is your service, your experience and the solutions, extensions and offerings around the base product – what you might think of as the “total experience”. This is the real innovation sweet spot.

After all, any product that you acquire will eventually become older or lose its usefulness or charm. A new version will emerge or a new product will arrive to knock the existing product off of its “Feeds and Speeds” pedestal. If all you care about are the base features of the product, you’ll jump as soon as the new product is fast enough, or has enough new options. If, on the other hand, you experience a completely designed experience that wraps the product or service into a complete offering, replete with extensions, services and experiences, you may be less likely to leave an antiquated product that has linkages to a total solution for then next “feeds and speeds” winner.

Most companies miss this concept entirely. They spend their meager innovation dollars on creating the next features and attributes winner – what I am referring to (tongue in cheek) as the feeds and speeds winner. While that accomplishes some short term innovation leadership, it merely teaches the customer to look for the next inevitable winner of the feeds and speeds race. What we should be innovating – what’s more valuable and more differentiable – is the experience. Can we create a total experience, linking the product or service to other services, support, third party apps and other networks, that is so compelling that even if the product suffers a bit over time, the consumer remains committed?

Many firms over-innovate and over-engineer the “product” and under-innovate the services and attributes surrounding the product, trying to create the most “efficient” processes, support and services. This creates the worst of both worlds – customers trained to care about feeds and speeds who expect the minimum “experience” and usually get it. Feeds and speeds are easy to copy, experiences aren’t, yet other than Nordstrom’s, Virgin and a few other firms, most organizations simply don’t think about innovating experiences, much less designing them from the customer’s perspective.

Want a simple, powerful and sustainable innovation? Design the customer’s experience to delight and sustain the customer, rather than spending all your innovation effort on the speeds and feeds. As Microsoft Word demonstrates, we typically can’t consume all the features in the product, and they often get in the way of what we are trying to do. Microsoft would be much better off improving the help function, the user interface and extending the solution to new social media uses rather than adding new features. Plus, designing and building a sustainable customer experience is differentiable. While Target, Wal-Mart, Sears and JC Penney may compete with each other, they are all very similar in experience, while Nordstrom’s stands alone.

Increasingly customers want designed products, but take it one step further. Use innovation to create designed experiences.

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Jeffrey PhillipsJeffrey Phillips is a senior leader at OVO Innovation. OVO works with large distributed organizations to build innovation teams, processes and capabilities. Jeffrey is the author of “Make us more Innovative”, and innovateonpurpose.blogspot.com.