The Consumer Matters is the blog of Leslie Grandy, aka Gearhead Gal.  My passion is creating and delivering compelling products that delight customers through simple and elegant user experience design.

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Even Apple Doesn't Hit Home Runs Every Time

iSuck: Apple’s Five Worst Products, Ever

Posted using ShareThis

There was the U2 iPod. And there was the $99 Leather Case. And then, my personal favorite, was the iPod Hi Fi. None of them barely remembered, though we all know about the battery fires and recalls.

Battery Exchange Program iBook G4 and PowerBook G4
Apple has determined that certain lithium-ion batteries containing cells manufactured by Sony Corporation of Japan pose a safety risk that may result in overheating under rare circumstances.

What makes great brands survive a hiccup or pratfall? It's how they recover. It takes a strong stomach and a commitment to disruption if a brand is to stand for innovation. A brand that takes the time to distinguish the essence of a good idea from a failed execution is more likely to survive the bumps. It's the entirety of the customer's journey with your brand that defines your true equities, create loyalty, and which can help you weather the occasional, but inevitable, product or service failure.


Good design: Dieter Rams' ten commandments


Less and More - from

Anyone who thinks that minimalist or clean product design begins and ends with Jonathan Ive would be well served to check out the latest exhibit on Dieter Rams. Unfortunately, the exhibit in question was already held at the Suntory Museum in Osaka, Japan but the contents of the retrospective have also been catalogued in a book, Less and More...


"Design Adjacent"

I have always wanted to be an artist, writer or designer. With no graphical talent, I took up film because it gave me the opportunity to use existing visuals to tell a story. By framing, lighting, editing out a close up or adding in a slow pan, and juxtaposing imagery with music I could evoke emotion and create an "experience". The selection of a cinematographer, a costume designer, and art director was as important to the process as the words in the screenplay. How you embrace a simple declarative sentence like, "he entered the room" could be the difference between creating fear or relief for your audience.

There are many great lessons I have taken away from my first career in Hollywood as I work today at the intersection of consumer and techonology, but one of the best learnings I have had is that it's often the business people, the film's producers and studio executives, who have to be the most creative when it comes to solving problems or getting results.

In technology, the same holds true for product developers and engineers. Thinking creatively, may mean thinking "like a designer", and I agree with Garr Reynolds who believes this can lead to innovative solutions. Here are his ten tips for anyone in product management to remember about what contributes to great design.

(1) Embrace constraints. Constraints and limitations are wonderful allies and lead to enhanced creativity and ingenious solutions that without constrains never would have been discovered or created. In the words of T.S. Eliot, "Given total freedom the work is likely to sprawl." There's no point complaining about constraints such as time, money, tools, etc. Your problem is what it is. How can you solve it given the resources and time that you have?

(2) Practice restraint. Any fool can be complicated and add more, it takes discipline of mind and strength of will to make the hard choices about what to include and what to exclude. The genius is often in what you omit or leave on the editing room floor.

(3) Adopt the beginner's mind. As the old saying goes, in the expert's mind there are few possibilities, but for one with the beginner's mind, the world is wide open. Designers understand the need to take risks, especially during early explorations of the problem. They are not afraid to break with convention. Good designers are open minded and comfortable with ambiguity early on in the process, this is how discoveries are made.

(4) Check your ego at the door. This is not about you, it's about them (your audience, customer, patient, student, etc.). Look at the problem from their point of view -- put yourself in their shoes. This is not easy, it takes great amounts of empathy. Get in touch with your empathetic side. Empathy — an under valued "soft skill," can be a great differentiator and is key for truly understanding a problem.

(5) Focus on the experience of the design. It's not the thing, it's the experience of the thing. This is related to #4 above: Put yourself in their shoes. How do people interact with your solution? Remember that much of design has an emotional component, sometimes this is even the largest component (though users may be unaware of this). Do not neglect the emotional aspect of your solutions.

(6) Become a master storyteller. Often it's not only the design — i.e., the solution to a problem — that is important, but the story of it. This is related to #5 above. What's the meaning of the solution? Practice illustrating the significance of solutions both verbally and visually. Start with the general, zoom in to the detail, pull out again to remind us of the theme or key concept, then zoom back in to illuminate more of the detail.

(7) Think communication not decoration. Design — even graphic design — is not about beautification. Design is not just about aesthetics, though aesthetics are important. More than anything, design is about solving problems or making the current situation a little better than before. Design is not art, though there is art in design.

(8) Obsess about ideas not tools. Tools are important and necessary, but they come and go as better tools come along. Obsess instead about ideas. Though most tools are ephemeral, some of your best tools are a simple pencil and sketch pad. These are often the most useful — especially in the early stages of thinking — because they are the most direct. Good advice is to go analog in the beginning with the simplest tools possible.

(9) Clarify your intention. Design is about choices and intentions, it is not accidental. Design is about process. The end user will usually not notice "the design of it." It may seem like it just works, assuming they think about it at all, but this ease-of-use (or ease-of-understanding) is not by accident, it's a result of your careful choices and decisions.

(10) Sharpen your vision & curiosity and learn from the lessons around you. Good designers are skilled at noticing and observing. They are able to see both the big picture and the details of the world around them. Humans are natural pattern seekers; be mindful of this skill in yourself and in others. Design is a "whole brain" process. You are creative, practical, rational, analytic, empathetic, and passionate. Foster these aptitudes.

(11) Learn all the "rules" and know when and why to break them. Over the centuries, those who came before us have established useful and necessary guidelines — these are often called rules or laws and it's important to know them.

See Garr's full blogpost. Thanks to Bernhard Schindlholzer for bringing it to our attention.


Elegance By Design: The Art of Less


The Bare Essentials - Elegance or Simplicity?

More and more, I am finding myself attracted to books and articles and podcasts on simplicity. I was a huge fan of John Maeda's work at MIT, and his book "The Laws of Simplicity" is one I pick up and re-read when the clutter in my personal life gets too much to handle. I recently - and serendiptiously - received our neighbor's copy of Real Simple magazine, which I had never read before. And now I am magnetized by Matthew May's book, "In Pursuit of Elegance." Mr. May also recently posted an article to the MIT Sloan Management Review site entitled, "Elegance by Design, The Art of Less." In both works, he maintains that "Everything elegant is simple; not everything simple is elegant."

The idea is a powerful one, and it has at its essence the age-old design belief that less is more. White space is good. However, what I find most intriguing about the exploration of "elegance" versus "simplicity" is the notion that one can maximize the effect of many things by minimizing the means. Saying no is extremely difficult for innovators and business people. The attainment of righteous goals through any series of trade-offs incites fear in the most passionate manager. Saying no to something means actively leaving behind a good idea or a potential opportunity. In our world of plenty, Americans feel compelled to say yes, I want more. No one ever won having the least toys. So how could doing more with less ever feel fulfilling or satisfying?

Mr May writes: "For today’s manager, the key to understanding its relevance lies in realizing that value, for customers and employees alike, may best be added, paradoxically, through a primarily subtractive process. As Jim Collins wrote in 2003, 'A great piece of art is composed not just of what is in the final piece, but equally what is not. It is the discipline to discard what does not fit—to cut out what might have already cost days or even years of effort—that distinguishes the truly exceptional artist and marks the ideal piece of work, be it a symphony, a novel, a painting, a company, or most important of all, a life.'"

Read on for more of his thought-provoking perspective, as well as the contributions of the great data visualization expert, Edward Tufte, and user experience guru, Don Norman. These guys are the trifecta of design thinking.


Starting My Birthday List Early

As we head into the Back to School shopping season, consumer electronics manufacturers gear up for the holiday with a preview of their best stuff to come. Here is the beginning of a list of the things I don't have yet, but may by December become objects of my desire.
Zeal's Confidant Bluetooth Sunglasses. The convergence of these two technologies seems a little much at first - why don't I just duct tape my headphone to the frames of my glasses? - but I have to admit for those gadget lovers that are prescription eyeglass wearers this seems like the ultimate gadget. For my eyeglass frames, I always choose the most premium polycarbonate lenses. However they don't always rest well on my ear when I place the bluetooth earpiece in its proper position. That makes me also love the fact the polarized technology Zeal uses in their progressive glasses is the same top-notch stuff high performance athletes demand. Seems like I don't have to sacrifice optics quality, comfort or convenience - with no tradeoffs I can like converged gadgets like these even more.

The Bose Soundlink Wireless USB Speaker streams audio from your computer (PC or Mac) with Bose sound quality and a Bose price tag. From the press release, the simplicity of the USB dongle should make set up take only a matter of minutes. Setting up the wireless adapter for my Tivo required it run on my wireless home network, and took a solid hour. The Soundlink sends a long range wireless signal directly to the speaker, which will be the key to making this a must-have purchase. I look forward to be able to stream audio directly to the rechargeable battery powered speaker - and not through a networked audio system - to enjoy a high quality audio signal on the back patio or upstairs porch.


Customers as Partners

I recently came across this video from Andrew Lippman, the co-director of the Communication Futures, team at MIT's Media Lab. The fundamental innovation for development teams may be to recognize their own shortcomings when delivering consumer products. In order to innovate quickly, smartly or frequently enough for their customers, they might need to employ a virtual network of partners to help them keep up - i.e., their own customers.

The sugar-charged appetite of a multi-tasking adolescent is being fed a steady diet of technology junk food, little bites of processed ideas that are not fulfilling on any level. But yet today's youth has no plans to stop eating from the buffet of bad products available. Meanwhile product "innovators" think if they make something a little smaller, a little faster, a lot harder, or a lot more frustrating, consumers will forgive them, as long as they did it first or cheapest.

Technology has under-delivered on innovating on my expectations for years. "I just want it to work!" like everyone else does, but I also aspire to live like Judy Jetson, where technology can improve the quality of my life for having bought it, learned it, and tried to use it. If I could only get back all the valuable time I have given away waiting for Windows to boot up, the NeverLost to find the GPS satellites, the cable guy to come to my house. I am sure if I owned a Rosey the Robot, like the Jetsons did, she'd be sold with an encyclopedic user guide, and a three finger salute to reset her.


Owning My Personal Brand

The Facebook land rush took me by surprise. (Apparently my casual use is so casual I only found out about the countdown by seeing my friends Twitter posts.) As the ball dropped on the new era in social branding, I really had to consider whether I wanted to permanently - albeit digitally - etch and thereby protect my personal brand for all eternity.

If the choice had been less permanent - one account with many URLs - it might have been easier. Companies introduce and retire brands all the time. (Who can forget New Coke?) But did I really need to make it that much easier to find me? Already I have fended off and unfriended a variety of folks I have known in past chapters in my life. Not all history is worth repeating. So would having a personal profile forever cemented to an easily searchable URL be all it's cracked up to be?

The brand I am and the brand I aspire to be are on two sides of a wide chasm some days. I don't always present my best self, even though I always hope to be a solid human being. How people experience my personal brand is often from a zipline hanging between the two views. If I could have more than one URL, I could "retire" a brand, let's say my professional one, when I no longer work Or I could create one, if I became a Mom, like But the convergence of my brands into one vanity URL reminded me of Seinfeld's George Costanza, who said a "George, divided against himself, cannot stand! You are killing independent George!"

On, Tameka Lee recently wrote: What’s in a screen name, Facebook profile or Twitter account?

Brand equity and integrity, for some; potential revenue streams (from selling virtual merchandise or account subscriptions) for others. Which is why the issue of protecting someone’s name—essentially their brand—across these various networks has become such a hot topic.


Reliablity, Desirability, Validity - Why So Many Products Suck

I've recently discovered Roger Martin's book, the Opposable Mind. I am incredibly inspired by his focus on diminishing the classic "trade-off" product teams make. Innovation often works as an opposing force to consistency for business; reliability most often partners well with the statistics and science of data analytics. When innovation can't be "proven" by existing data, how do you let new ideas flourish?

Here is also a link to Martin's 2005 article on "Design of Business." Note the title uses the word 'of" and not "for" business. Martin's fundamental premise "typically, corporate decisions don't live up to visualization ideals either. In part because companies are hierarchical, decision-makers tend to put the needs of the decision's producer ahead of the needs of the decision's user." Product decisions that only focus on creating business value - EBITDA growth, acquisition, etc - should not come at the cost of value creation for consumers. They seem like "opposing" forces, but in reality the great companies that find a way to do both create sustainable innovation systems.


Does a Great Consumer Product Experience Require A 'System' View of Design?

copyright Peter Merholz, Adaptive Path

Jeff Bezos often has decried the patience of investors while his R+D spend outpaced his profitability. Growing his customer base while innovating with the systems that had to deliver services to those users concurrently, Amazon created the ultimate eCommerce platform. But what customer ever told him they wanted an eCommerce platform. Looking at his "franchise" product, the Kindle, it's hard to ignore the same underlying model of what made the iPod great. Create a product system and you can capture the essence of the best customer experience you can offer your consumers. This is what the Kindle customer experience was meant to accomplish...the experience is "designed" into the whole product strategy. Now building a great customer experience doesn't happen overnight. Why? Because you build customer experience systems when you build whole products. The way customers acquire them, the way customers see the packaging and engage with them out of the box, the first interaction with the product itself, and the first missed expectation.
From CX Labs..
What is “the customer experience”? A lot of people wonder is meant with customer experience. The problem is that the term customer experience is used ambiguously and too often just to present old wine in new bottles.

Customer experience management is not the successor of CRM, it is not a better word for call center management and it is not about “staging” some interactions with customer services.

Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon (shown in the picture above presenting the Kindle 2 ebook Reader), explains his understanding of customer experience in the BusinessWeek article “How Amazon Aims to Keep You Clicking”:

“Internally, customer service is a component of customer experience,” he says. “Customer experience includes having the lowest price, having the fastest delivery, having it reliable enough so that you don’t need to contact [anyone]. Then you save customer service for those truly unusual situations.”

So a customer experience includes all encounters and interactions that customers have with your product, services and brand. The core is to deliver customer value through each of these three areas and not just by doing “a little bit customer experience management in the call center”.

With such an understanding you also see that the biggest potential for remarkable customer experience lies in the core functionality and price of your offerings. Only if you shift your attention to these areas, you can truly create a remarkable different customer experience.

Amazon and the Kindle:

Looking at Amazon from this perspective, it becomes clear why an online retailer would develop an eBook reader like the Kindle. This device would significantly improve what is most important for an online retailer: instant availability of books and cheaper prices of electronic editions while at the same time revolutionizing the book industry.


Experience is the Thing

Experience IS the Product...and the only thing users care about
Excerpted from an Article By Peter Merholz
(Read Full Article)
Transcendent product design is a matter of philosophy and approach. The reason product development has gone wrong is that people stop at the worst time—when the solutions are most convoluted. What Eastman knew, what Jobs knows, is that you have to go beyond; you have to think about the experience people are having.



Whole Product Thinking - It's a Three Legged Stool

A Bain study on Customer Experience cited in a Harvard Management Update 3 years ago indicates that 80% of the companies polled thought they delivered a superior customer experience, but only 8% of their customers agreed.

What sets the elite 8 percent apart? We found that they take a distinctively broad view of the customer experience. Unlike most companies, which reflexively turn to product or service design to improve customer satisfaction, the leaders pursue three imperatives simultaneously:

  1. They design the right offers and experiences for the right customers.
  2. They deliver these propositions by focusing the entire company on them with an emphasis on cross-functional collaboration.
  3. They develop their capabilities to please customers again and again—by such means as revamping the planning process, training people in how to create new customer propositions, and establishing direct accountability for the customer experience.

Each of these "Three Ds" draws on and reinforces the others. Together, they transform the company into one that is continually led and informed by its customers' voices.

 Who hasn't been let down by a wonderful sales experience only to find you have a product with broken parts when you get home and unpack the box? But what happens when the store is electronic? I remember once hearing someone tell me about a new job as "head of product development" at I couldn't imagine what that person developed, until I became an e-shopper. Today, I find that I won't frequent e-Commerce sites that require me to go back to the customer service section of their site to fill out the "Return Merchandise Authorization" form before I can return or exchange an item. I have to use free email accounts to receive offers from those sites I do frequent, because they don't use personalization tools when they send me direct marketing messages. I only buy shoes from stores that let me see 360 degree views of the merchandise so I can see all the things I would look at when buying that product in a retail store. As I consumer, I have adapted my behaviors to enable a great online shopping experience for myself, using additional technologies when sellers don't.


Another great example of this is Fred Reichhelder's post on his Home Depot experience on his Netpromoter blog. I think the most important customer experience mantra has to be - it's not if we will stumble, but that our customers can be sure we will recover their trust. The technology may fail, but the brand can't.


All A Twitter Building My Personal Online Brand

Allen Adamson writes in post:
"What is it about Twitter's mini-diarists with their 140-character missives that have gotten our shorts in such a twist? What is it about the 14 million users, and counting, that has this newest form of social media fast closing in on Facebook for popularity? Will it replace this longer-form venue as the public's desire to share information, both trite and practical, intensifies? Or has it reached critical mass?

Great insight enables a company to meaningfully set its brand apart from others in the minds of consumers and in the marketplace. Monitoring consumer opinion in the high-speed modes now available, also gives organizations a better chance of fixing any situations that need fixing before they get out of hand. The closer organizations can get to their customers, the more opportunities they have to enhance brand experiences; make them more relevant, and more valuable to those who matter most to them."

I'm sure it comes as no surprise to anyone who knows me, but I notice that each time I try to create a pithy 140 character Twitter burst that defines my personal brand I find I am overwhelmed by the pressure such communication precision requires of me. Compounding my stress is the notion that people whom I wouldn't think to block as followers might - unbeknownst to me - read a personal thought they shouldn't or develop a career limiting impression from a public persona I carelessly have created. I started out on Twitter as a quiet observer. My friend described Twitter as a 24 hour cocktail party. I have been the wall flower at that happening until now.

By jumping into the deep end of the pool, I have found that the pressure is actually not an unnatural one. I see fellow latecomers to the party signing on and being welcomed by the other guests, who simply merge them into the ongoing conversation about nothing and everything. Until I got the hang of it, I had trouble with the cadence and etiquette. But the house rules were something everyone was happy to share.
The first time a business video of me was posted on You Tube it was traumatic. The PR clip was immediately appended with posts about my supposedly drug addicted appearance and my horribly nervous demeanor. As if my own hatred of the permanent dark circles beneath my eyes isn't robust enough, the Internet community of anonymous bullies was there to make sure my ego didn't inflate as I entered the digital time machine. I have suffered a less brutal Twitter come-uppance. Maybe I am a little more "seasoned", or maybe I've subconsciously kept the searchable keywords out of my tweets so I can remain an observer a little longer.


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