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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The Internet Of Things - A Look At The Good And The Bad 

Pew Research Center just pubished their May 2014 report The Internet of Things Will Thrive by 2025, and it provides a balanced perspective on the benefits and risks of our increasing acceptance of the connected homes we live in and the connected cars we drive. Our increasingly networked lives will potentially be healthier and more convenient, but there will be unintended consequences beyond the obvious privacy implications, Pew warns. So it's worth a read.

Credit: SatizTPM


Does a Product Designer Need To Be A Great Storyteller?

It's an interesting question - is a product's story the invention of a marketeer providing its position, or the product's designer giving a product its voice?

Over at Medium, which bills itself as "a new place on the Internet where people share ideas and stories that are longer than 140 characters and not just for friends," I found an interesting "musing" on this topic, which clearly suggests that a product's story must truly be embedded into a product's design to be effective in engaging its users to the max. Thanks to Apple, the author maintains, it's not enough to launch a product simply supported by messages in the marketplace. The product itself must communicate its value, its role, and its intent in how a user experiences it.

Worth the 5 min read (an estimate provided by Medium.)




Digital Innovation and The Media

Amidst all of the reporting about the Jill Abramson departure from the New York Times were several mentions of this killer digital report that was recently made public and analyzed the state of digital at the Gray Lady.  Some analysis of this report has been made, mostly in the context of the NY Times drama. However, the report stands firmly on its own, even without the journalistic Game of Thrones that has given it even greater meaning.

Notably, the report rehashes the meaning of disruptive innovation, gives more responsibility for audience development to players outside the marketing department, and promotes the notion of practicing and testing, seems to indicate just how slowly and begrudgingly the New York Times company (along with many other media giants) has faced the digital age. Meanwhile companies born in the digital age and driven by digital technology innovations have already stipulated these facts years ago, and built brands and media platforms that assume the world is changing.


Here is The Full New York Times Innovation Report



Have You Lost Your Customer Focus?

Dilbert Copyright Scott Adams


This May Be My Favorite Quora Thread Ever

What are some awesome examples of simple yet innovative designs?
Click here to see the awesomeness.
designed by Aakash Dewan of DSK ISD (International School of Design ,India)

Need Creates Opportunity

"New York City prohibits students from carrying cellphones in public schools, but many are reluctant to leave their phones behind. As a result, the rule has created a modest side business for shops near some schools that allow students to store their phones for a fee...The phone storage business has transformed the storefront economy around the bustling intersection, producing such a strong business incentive that local owners say they must take part in order to avoid losing foot traffic." Read more from the NY Times.

5 Mobile Companies That Are 2014 Customer Champions

Every year, JD Powers publishes the results of the surveys it receives from consumers about which brands delight them with their service. More than 600 brands are evaluated in many categories from airlines to banks to automotive manufacturers.  

"The 50 companies we've recognized as Customer Champions demonstrate the highest levels of service excellence, not just compared with their direct competitors, but also across all facets of the customer experience. Not only does satisfaction encourage customer loyalty, but happy customers also become advocates of the brand to others. Particularly given the ability of today's consumers to easily communicate their experiences far and wide through social media and online reviews, customer advocacy can be critical to a company's bottom line," the JD Power Customer Champion announcement states.

 This year, I was struck by the selection of mobile companies that made it to the list.

  1. Boost Mobile
  2. Straight Talk
  3. TracFone
  4. US Cellular
  5. Metro PCS

The positive experience customers have with non-contract carriers is important, and the timing of this announcement no doubt played a huge role in the T-Mobile announcement around the same time to end contracts.


The Zeitgeist of Shark Week

With full disclosure, I work at Discovery Communications.  And the buzz around Shark Week makes me even prouder to admit it. A dead shark recently found aboard a New York City subway car even had my fellow employees wondering aloud if it was a PR stunt orchestrated by our clever corporate communications crew. (It was not.)

In his recent analysis posted in my LinkedIn Today feed , Michael Powell, President of the NCTA (a cable television trade association),praised the way Shark Week has become part of our "shared story."

Powell writes, "Shark Week comes but once a year. There’s no “Tiger Week” in January or “Snake Week” in April. Considering Shark Week’s success, it was surely tempting for the network’s executives to try and replicate their PR and content creation victory at other times throughout the year. But they recognized that there was significant long-term value in refusing to dilute the power of the Shark Week experience. Perhaps this sacrificed a few short-term conquests, but it was for the long-term good. They were right to do so.

Even when striking upon a successful venture, you can’t squeeze every last drop of creative juice in the pursuit of repeat results. Look instead to the future, and work out how to maintain and improve without undermining your own success."

From Max the Roomba Cat to Jimmy Fallon's Shark Week Pros & Cons, the meme every summer during the first week in August for the last 26 years has been sharks. The brand halo of Shark Week is now so big, other networks don't try to beat it, they just join it. How great is that?


Will We Ever Really Get TV Anywhere?

I was raised on television and I consume a lot of it.  I am not a couch potato, but rather a road warrior, who likes to see favorite shows when and where it is convenient for me.  And, I subscribe to a lot of services that aspire to let me do that on my tablet, laptop or smartphone.

Admittedly, my family is not ready to cut the cord completely, but I have been evaluating several services that are meant to encourage just that.  Unlike Netflix, Hulu or Amazon, services like Aereo and NimbleTV (currently in beta) are pushing the envelope of broadcasting by enabling subscribers to watch live TV channels on a mobile device over the Internet, and providing cloud storage for recordings of the shows that I want to time-shift my viewing.

Where Aereo struggled to provide the breadth of programming I receive on a full cable package, Nimble TV has chosen to address this issue by subscribing users to a Dish Network account, which then streams most major basic cable channels in my area.  This opens up an array of programming that starts to make this solution truly viable as a cord cutting option.

Unfortunately, the quality of the stream has been sporadic, and this is particularly true of the recorded content.  Quality control tools appear in the UI (Low, High, and Auto) but, as of the beta, do not seem to allow toggling between SD or HD recordings.

Both Aereo and NimbleTV seem to struggle with executing robust DVR capabilities, one of the most essential experiences of my current home television provider. As an inaugural TiVo user, DVR features have become integral to my TV viewing.  On NimbleTV, programs appear to be available to be recorded in the guide even if they have already aired, but in fact can’t actually be recorded once they have aired.  Episodes appear in the “recorded” list, but actually won’t play back.  When I have been able to watch a recording, the image is pixilated, blurry and often unwatchable, even with full wifi connectivity. Riffing on what Seinfeld said about rental car reservations, scheduling a show to be recorded is only half the battle. Being able to actually view the recorded content really is the whole point.

 Which brings me back to my point about being a TV junkie and a road warrior. Streaming services are fine when coverage is strong, when there is wifi, and when data caps aren’t a limiter.  But as a traveler on trains, planes and subways, they fail to service my addiction.  Plane, rail and hotel wifi often provide me with inadequate bandwidth for uninterrupted streaming (and in some cases the airlines, Amtrak and wifi providers prevent streaming video services altogether.)  Many media players don’t effectively throttle to changing bandwidth, and my history with both Aereo and NimbleTV is that they have yet to perfect the user experience for variable bandwidth conditions.

 Without a complete solution for enabling quality television viewing when bandwidth is constrained, I find I still revert back to the dependability of purchased programming downloaded from iTunes paired with a streaming service from Hulu, Amazon, Netflix or a broadcaster’s own mobile app, like HBO GO.  Television substitute services may provide the convenience of aggregation and the benefit of smaller monthly bills, but if it is at the expense of quality and usability, they don’t feel like a better deal to me.

Editor's note: In fairness, I used both products in beta, and have assessed these experience based on my interest in switching from my existing services based on the interactions I had in beta.


Three Great Quora Reads On Product Innovation

I have yet to integrate Quora in any regular or habitual way into my daily professional life. But from time to time, I dip back into the site and am delighted by the interesting insights I find buried among the snarky retorts and unanswered questions.

Here are three of my favorite recent reads on product innovation.

How does Apple keep secrets so well?

A former colleague from my time at the Apple Online store wrote, "In the end, it works because the employees want it to... They want to be part of the magic trick, and the most important part of magic is not revealing the secret."

Robert Scoble added these thoughts: "Because they are a hardware company they knew that letting details out about new products would kill sales of existing products, so they built that into their culture early on...Everything is on a need to know basis." In this world of agile software development, I would agree it is often hard for technologists to remember that hardware product lifecycles are not so short or very nimble. Manufacturing lines have to be set up, tooling has to be done and re-done, chipsets must be assembled, durability tested.

Scoble continued, "This [need to know]  extends even into meetings. If you are in a meeting and you aren't on the disclosure list for something you'll be asked to leave. Generally people don't bring up stuff in meetings they aren't allowed to discuss with the group." This, too was my own personal experience. If you don't believe security is a part of a company's culture, you haven't been asked to sign an NDA when you enter a meeting with your own colleagues in your own office building.

Why has Microsoft seemingly stopped innovating?

My former CEO at RealNetworks, (and once again Real's current CEO), Rob Glaser wrote in a "rather lengthy (War and Peace like) note" that "most of the action in technology innovation nowadays is taking place in areas where (i) PC software strength by itself is not sufficient, and (ii) the business models that lead to success are very different that the model that Microsoft was build on and is still at the core of Microsoft's DNA."

Glaser cites three value creating innovations in the past five years that Microsoft failed to nail: "(a) Search delivered to consumers/end users on the Web for free, supported by extremely valuable targeted ads (Google)  (b) Integrated Hardware/Software/Service device plays monetized both by selling the device and then selling services on top of the device (Apple, RIM) (c) Social Network Platforms that are free to consumers, based on user-generated information put into highly integrated and extensible structured frameworks, monetized a few different ways (Facebook)"

Scott Berkun, the author of the Myths of Innovation, pointed out, "The real tragedy is it takes  great products to be labeled an innovator by the mass media and consumer culture. Edison did not invent the lightbulb, but he made one that  worked well enough to be used by most people, that's why he gets all the  credit. Same for Ford. Microsoft has never been led as a products company - It's a  technology and platforms company. With that kind of strategy  middle-management and design-by-committee dominates, making the kind of  design vision and clarity of focus required to make a great product (or a  great user experience) very difficult culturally. The result is products that are often mediocre to experience, but have secondary value that enterprise and corporate customers respond to. This doesn't work as well for consumers, and consumer drive the perception of who is innovative and cool and who isn't."

What distinguishes the top 1% of product managers from the top 10%?

Former Yahoo exec, Henry Sohn, commented, "I would argue that the best product managers are the ones who can connect to the very best creators and help bring about the best products, and communicate that to the outside world.  

The most popular answer to this question, written by an Amazon senior manager, stresses the value of simplicity to the top echelon of product managers.  "A 1% PM knows how to get 80% of the value out of any feature or project with 20% of the effort. They do so repeatedly, launching more and achieving compounding effects for the product or business. "


The Haggler Is My Hero

Every local news station in the country has a consumer advocate who rights the wrongs of their audience, from bad dry cleaners to absentee landlords. The stories they recount are also personal ones, painted with tears and broken hearts of consumers' dreams shattered.  Over time, these white knights have filled the air waves with maudlin, ratings enhancing tales.

And then there is The Haggler. The New York Times' answer to "7 On Your Side" or "Ask Jesse". And like the venerable Times, The Haggler takes a higher road in his literary explorations of consumers' woes.  Well written, insightful, and focused in his upbraiding of wireless carriers, cable companies, rental car agents and countless inhospitable customer service reps, The Haggler's columns are a Sunday must read for me.

This Sunday's column, readable here, epitomizes what I love about this righter of consumer wrongs.  It all boils down to "The Catch."



The Gadget Lovers' Answer to Burning Man - CES 2013 Preview

Your holiday gift list may be filled with gadgets, but right after you've opened all your presents the friendly people who made them will tell you that your newest tech toys are very shortly going to be too big, too slow or just too limited in their capabilities.

Each year in early January, consumer electronics manufacturers, automotive companies, and entertainment industry deal makers converge on Las Vegas by the hundreds of thousands for the annual gadget-lovers' answer to Burning Man, the Consumer Electronics Show. 

Click here to find out what the Consumer Electronics Association previewed to press and analysts before the next edition of this (in)famous industry trade show.


Are These The 475 Best Products Of The Year?

From drop testing to stain removal, the tests conducted by Consumer Reports for their annual buyer's guide have yielded an array of predictable brands and popular products. That shouldn't be a huge surprise in that quality and durability tend to drive consumer satisfaction, which is the bedrock of strong brands.

But before you start adding these items to your bridal registry or birthday wish list, keep in mind Consumer Reports notes,"The whopping bill [for these products] was $4.1 million: $1.6 million for products and $2.5 million for cars." 

So, do you agree with Consumer Reports these are the cream of the crop in electronics, applicances and automobiles? What don't you see on this list?



A Face Is Art That Deserves A Great Frame (And Other Design Truths)


The Reality TV I'll Admit to Watching

I have to admit it...I'm a Shark Tank addict. Even though I wouldn't buy a lot of the products on the show, one of the things I love about it is how the program champions the value of the "speed pitch", a concept most entrepreneurs struggle with. Getting quickly to an easy-to-understand value proposition is the first place most pitch folks trip. I always know when the Sharks ask a presenter, "what are you actually selling?" that things will go south fast. 

Another common refrain that forebodes "no deal" from the Sharks is "what you are saying is that you want me to work for my money?" Sharks then go on to lament that the entrepreneur is merely a poseur, and not adequately driven to make their potential business successful. 

For more lessons to be learned from watching Shark Tank, click here to read the Fast Company rundown. 


On a Mission to Disrupt the Apple Accessory Market

Two of my new favorite obsessions are Fab and Quirky, so I was delighted to learn about their new partnership. If you have an idea for an Apple accessory, then you can submit your idea and in lightening fast time, with the support of the online community, your idea can become a reality. And as if that wasn't enough, you might even earn a perpetual royalty for your genius. 

To kick off the company's new focus on Apple accessories, Ben Kaufman, Quirky's CEO, described the all night online design push that kicked off this partnership on his blog, "The launch of this project (and specifically the events that close out this week) is a bit of a throwback for me, having first run a live 24-hour product design sprint at mophie after a Steve Jobs keynote in September 2006, and another shortly after the launch of Quirky in September 2009 (see PowerCurl). These events produce great products, and are amazingly inspirational to watch."

Fab, a rising ecommerce star on a mission "to help people better their lives with design," will feature the results of the launch sprint in a sale on their site within a week from inception. On his blog, Betashop, Fab's CEO, Jason Goldberg writes, "Wednesday September 19, 3pm EST, just 7 days after the iPhone 5 was announced,  Fab launches a special sale featuring the newly design accessories. Smile, you’re designed to."


Passion, Presentation and Partnership - Tony Fadell on Building Great Products


Mary Meeker's All Things Digital Report - 2012 Internet Trends

Published May 2012 by Mary Meeker and Liang Wu

This report talks about today’s Internet growth and provides an in-depth look for the following new trends: 1) review of Internet stats and notes that Internet growth remains robust and rapid mobile adoption is still in early stages; 2) run through a number of examples of business models that are being re-imagined and re-invented thanks to mobile and social; 3) highlight mixed economic trends and 4) observe that while there’s a lot to be excited about in technology, there are things to be worried about regarding America’s financial situation.

KPCB Internet Trends 2012


Is There Value In A Brand Ideal?

Excerpted from Strategy & Business

"Any brand is simply the collective intent of the people behind it. To everyone your business touches, from employees to consumers, the brand defines who you are and what you stand for as a business. If you want great business results, you and your brand have to stand for something compelling. And that’s where brand ideals enter the equation.

A brand ideal is a shared intent by everyone in a business to improve people’s lives. The ability to leverage this ideal is what separates great business leaders from good, bad, or indifferent ones. A brand ideal is a business’s essential reason for being, the higher-order benefit it brings to the world."

If you asked each of your employees, would they communicate a singular shared intent? How about your customers? If there is confusion about what your brand's intention is amongst your staff, don't be surprised if your customers reflect that in how they value their relationship with you.