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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Entries in experience design (12)


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.)




A House Made Entirely of Legos

If you choose to live in a house made of Legos it may not be soft and cushy, but what you sacrifice in comfort you make up for with VERY flexible design. It gives new meaning to the word "remodel."


Creating Brands Through Experiences

Thanks to @kristianindy for the permission to embed this slideshow I discovered on Slideshare.  By way of complete disclosure, I can't vouch for the capabilities of  Kristian Anderson + Associates, and the presentation, I presume, is intended to represent the capabilities of his agency.  Nonetheless, I do appreciate the point of view it shares around the intersection of customer experience and brand, so I include it more for how it concisely and aesthetically sums up what I believe. Enjoy.




The New Economy's Consumer is a Tough Sell

US News and World Report posted a great list of 17 ways consumer behavior has changed in the wake of the enduring changes in the economy.  In cautionary times, it is an imperative read for marketers who need consumer behavior to drive recurring revenue.

Since consumers are more thoughtful when parting with their money these days, companies will need to recognize that the tricks of the past won't necessarily work any more. In the days of increasing wealth, it was easy to slip a $5 recurring fee onto a consumer's bill and have it go unnoticed as long as the consumer could make that minimum monthly payment.  I'd say that practice is now prey to their "greater suspicion" and their need to reduce their monthly overhead.

In the old economy, status could be bought with premium brands. Today, however, displaying glitzy luxury brands doesn't feel so good when the world is full of so many have-nots.

For rich and poor, that means quality matters more than ever before. Products need to stand when the label isn't screaming their luxury price.  As the report mentions, they'll be less waste, and the average consumer won't be replacing or upgrading goods quickly, because it feels wasteful to retire things that still function effectively.  That means product lifecycles will change, and not necessarily be led by innovative technologies. Companies will struggle to introduce new technology platforms when consumers are busy trying to get more out of the technologies they have already invested in and are using successfully.  And cheap products that fail to meet expectations can be exposed quickly through social media, which can build or dilute a brand's loyal base.

In a rental economy, when credit is tight, commitments are hard to make, and consumers are fearful of what happens if they can't meet them. Consequently, it will be more important for consumers to evaluate the benefit of low upfront costs against the risk of long range contracts, especially if the penalties for breaking the contracts are severe.

Indeed the new economy's consumer is more informed, more defensive, and more alert than ever before. Those that understand this well will lead the economic recovery.


The Most Important Unboxing Day of the Year 

Boxing Day is a holiday around the world, also known in America as the day of many returns.

Presents under the tree leave an indelible first impression when the paper is gone and the box is opened. The real surprise, though, may not be the gift, but the way the product is experienced once the ribbons and bows are gone.


I recently purchased a new pair of stereo in-ear headphones with a microphone for my iPhone made by VModa. I like to listen to music on my iPhone but my stereo headphones didn't have a microphone, so this product seemed like a great solution. Once I got them home and tried to unwrap them, I found the unboxing experience made me want to reconsider the choice. The packaging was  aggravating. I am completely aware that retailers require packaging that prevents loss from theft by customers or employees. But this design defied reason. The amount of time it took to figure out how to set the headphones free was at least 15 minutes. And the experience was complicated by the fact the packaging made it really difficult to guess where the safest place was to cut it open. The cord was black, the packaging was black and there was black tape holding the cord to the plastic. There were instructions, but they were buried under a corner of the plastic you had to fold back to read. I sliced my finger pulling back the tab to read them. I am certain the product managers and designers didn't mean to leave me with such a sour attitude by the time I started using the headphones 20 minutes later.

Every part of the customer experience tells you something about what matters most to the company behind the brand. Does the company put their processes ahead of yours? In this case, was theft prevention the prevailing design goal? Does the set of business rules around the company's service department give the consumer the benefit of the doubt? Does the company empower front line sales and support people to solve problems for customers? How much does a customer have to adapt to the company, and how far does the company go to ensure not only their products but their processes align with their consumers' needs and goals? Acquiring the product and then getting the product to the first use can be as important to the whole product experience as features, price and durability. As Oprah says, "Love is in the details," although, admittedly, I believe she was speaking about a more macro-global level of love.  The companies that seem to "get" that the total consumer experience matters are the ones that build relationships with their customers from the first interaction. They think about their customers' entire journey from consideration to purchase to out of the box experiences and support over the product's lifetime, and are especially prepared when problems unexpectedly arise.

We always hope to make great Christmas memories each year in our house. Often, though, the memories that are most unforgettable are the ones least expected - the dropped turkey or the present we received that cost us some bandages just to get it out of the box.


Favorite Tweet of the Day

@thejordanrules: Great experience design reading list - some great posts & presentations:


Technology-driven Innovations May Not Be All Bad

As an Apple veteran, I understand that is not always helpful to ask users what innovations to go build because it does not always result in an earth-shattering, inventive solution that meets their needs. Marketers who have learned from Steve Jobs do not look for mainstream user validation to identify the next new thing.  Don Norman, a noted User Experience expert, design professor and former Apple fellow, further explodes the myths around need-driven innovation in his post, "Technology First, Needs Last."

He writes, "Major innovation comes from technologists who have little understanding of all this research stuff: they invent because they are inventors. They create for the same reason that people climb mountains: to demonstrate that they can do so. Most of these inventions fail, but the ones that succeed change our lives." In supporting this perspective, Norman goes on to show the evidence by pointing to revolutionary innovations like the telephone, radio and the Internet that changed our lives but came from the minds of inventors of new technology, not end users.

In his debunking of the myths perpetuated by designers, researchers and marketers, Norman has made some controversial statements to drive home a core insight for businesses in this difficult economy: research matters most when the consumer understands the concept and can refine it.  While social anthropology provides useful insights around consumer behavior, even advanced influencers generally start with tools that already exist in their lives. They may evolve how they use these tools to service new purposes or capabilities.  But technologists often erect the original framework for consumer-driven innovations to occur.

The problem for business today, though, is that R&D budgets to nurture big inventions have been hit hard as companies struggle to maintain revenue and grow profits. Social media gives marketers and designers more immediate access to feedback that looks actionable, and costs less than market research did just a few short years ago. Consumers can point to iterative improvements that can trigger a design or process innovation that can save companies money or increase loyalty and satisfaction. But inevitably this feedback leads to improvements that can be characterized as cheaper, faster, easier than existing solutions.

We'd all agree the ideal outcome would be that a statistically relevant group of mainstream users would be able tell you the same original thing they need you to go build. Then they'd put their money where their mouth is by purchasing it. But, of course, if it were that easy, every product from every company would be a game changing innovation like the photocopier, fax machine, CD, web search, DVR and cell phone.

The conclusion I'd draw from Norman's post is that companies need to enable both types of innovation - revolutionary and evolutionary. And they must understand where the consumer's insights are going to lead them. Technology exploration may lead to "crazy applications" which the market may reject initially as impossibly impractical. But from that invention's failure can come the most valuable consumer contribution for an innovator - the practical clarity of what not to do the next time.




Great Products Can't Mask Lousy Service Design

One of the many consequences of how businesses are coping with the economic downturn is the way they deliver service through retail storefronts. The pressure on bricks and mortar retailers to compete with ecommerce sites on price is obvious from the minute you walk in the door - from the product quality on the shelves to the fewer people around to assist you on the sales floor, the physical world is threatened by the low margin world of the Internet.  Though bricks and mortars stores need to operate more efficiently to keep competitive, they still need to remember the service experience can be a valuable differentiator worth paying for.  Over on, a post entitled Why Don't Retailers Copy the Apple Retail Model suggests the Apple experience in retail is nirvana. "There’s no lines, no frustration, just pure satisfaction'

I have lamented the way product quality has suffered from manufacturing and supply chain cost-cutting measures to grow margin, and cutting out the "middle class" of products. Apple has engineered quality from the manufacturing line into the front lines. Every detail matters. But quality may not be the only victim when a company shifts focus onto increased profitability without providing increased customer value.  With today’s tough business choices, many brands are losing their core equities simply from the lack of innovation on the service experience.  When policy and process become the defining attributes of the service experience, customers generally don’t win.

Would You Like Vinyl Siding With Those Earrings?

A great case in point was a recent experience I had with my husband at our local Sears. Through good times and bad times, Sears has stood for quality tools and appliances. My husband buys Craftsman as much because of the kind of service Sears provides for out-of-warranty repairs as he does because the products are durable and dependable. If anything does happen, he knows the company will stand behind their products. When our pressure washer recently went on the fritz, they fixed it in half the estimated time. We went into the repair center to pick it up, but were amazed at the journey we went on once we walked into the reception area. The lack of design thinking applied to our interactions as customers was readily transparent. This was an experience designed from the inside out. 

Find out how Sears could design a better service experience by reading the full article here.


The Power of Emotion in Design

reprinted from


Photo sources: Http://


I love books. And libraries. And bookstores. I love the idea I can own thoughts, and I can see them physically on a shelf. My mother was an English professor and I have a lot of memories around the smell of books, libraries and bookstores. I spent a lot of my childhood buried in stacks of books.  I own a lot of books.  Memories are a powerful thing. They frame so many choices we make – from the media we consume, to our favorite foods, even to the places we live. We also create new “memories” all the time.

It should follow, therefore, that deep connections to the products we buy are informed by those memories as well as the emotions they conjure up. It doesn’t take a lot to do that. The look, sound, smell and taste of an experience can telegraph how we should “feel” about a product or service.  Emotional bonds with products are also created from the perfect marriage of utility and appeal.  I have recently discovered a set of cases that look like miniaturized eyeglass cases, made from “eco-leather” in bright, candy colors.  They are palm sized, smooth and polished. I carry a big tote bag when I travel with all sorts of little odds and ends I toss inside. I have bought a lot of cases of all shapes and materials to try to help me stay organized, but I adore these. Why? Because the colors make me happy. They’re easy to spot and even when they are closed, they communicate to me. My stereo earbuds are white, and fit inside the white case. My Jawbone Prime is candy apple red, so it resides in the red case. The material is durable, so when it bangs around in the bottom of my bag it stays glossy and bright, and the hinge stays closed. They are stylish and functional at the same time, and because I love to use them, I find I want to carry them even when I don’t travel.



Leslie's Patent Fedon Eco-Leather Mini Cases

Online shopping has made it dramatically harder to sense everything about a product, and predict if or how you might emotionally attach to it, since comparing and purchasing have become mostly visual experiences in a digital world.   Don’t get me wrong, online shopping has been a huge innovation that has changed my behavior around shopping dramatically. The accessibility of world goods from local craftspeople and the convenience of 24/7 purchasing are windfall benefits. But they come at a cost.  You don’t always evaluate products by touch or interaction as much as our parents and grandparents did. Manufacturers and retailers seem to worry less about our “out of the box” experience, since a product may come in cellophane wrap within a cardboard box or appear drowning in a sea of Styrofoam peanuts.

amazon-kindleProducts communicate to consumers through design, and design makes products useful.  In a digital world, though, it is only getting harder for us to connect with the things we buy, and product designers must be even more inventive to create emotional attachment. If it’s impossible to assess the physical form and substance of a product prior to buying it, the design will have to work harder to convey the product value.  I still love physical books and the smell of pulp, so I thought I’d never buy an e-Reader, but I have to admit I have got a crush on my Kindle.  As someone who chooses what I read based on my mood, the big win for me is that I no longer have to decide what to pack in my carry-on bag or drag to the beach.  In fact, my Kindle will let me carry 1,500 books with me everywhere I go, and I can read a book review and own the book within seconds.  All of those books I adore are now with me all the time, any time. What’s not to love about that? Technology will never supplant the power of products to connect a consumer to their emotions or memories.  But great product design can seal those connections with customers that will last a lifetime.


Objectified - Worth Pocketing This Film

"Bad design is where the customer thinks it’s their fault that something doesn’t work. So if you can’t make your GPS device work in your car — I mean, there should be a riot because they’re so poorly designed! Instead, the user thinks, ‘Oh, I’m not very smart, I can’t make this GPS thing work.’ People should demand more from the things they own, they need to demand that things work." - David Kelly, IDEO

"Objectified", a documentary from filmmaker Gary Hustwit, about our complex relationship with manufactured objects is now available on DVD, Blu Ray, and for download on iTunes. But it is also available through one of the most innovative delivery mechanisms for commercialized digital media that I have seen, the Limited Edition USB drive. I can't wait to see how the packaging contributes to my experience of enjoying this film again, but I guess I'll have to, since the site tells me "please note that shipping times can be between 1 and 4 weeks, depending on how far you are from New York City." I guess I'm likely to be 4 weeks far, up here in the Emerald City...

Check out the film trailer and read some other great quotes from a sample of the innovative minds explored within this entertaining documentary about consumers and our interactions with the products we love and hate.



Permission to Speak?


According to the recent report, The State of the Blogosphere 2009, published by Technorati, 70% of bloggers say they blog as a form of self expression, and the experience gives them an outlet for their passion around topics that matter to them. Clearly, Gearhead Gal is a part of that resounding majority, as I am passionate about enjoying and creating great consumer product and service experiences. But in truth, the subject matter has been as much a means to an end for me, and despite my being part of the long tail of writers in the blogosphere, my initial reason for starting this site were not the ones highlighted in the report as one of the most popular ones.

Technorati State of the Blogosphere 2009

Why DIY?

Since more and more individuals are creating personal online journals, hobbyist sites, and grassroots communities without the aid of interactive agencies or IT departments, I decided to experience the process of designing and creating my own web destination. From registering a name to establishing a location for my site to live to page layout and content creation, I wanted to roll around in the insights, tools, downloads, communities and product reviews that exist on the web and do the ultimate DIY effort. No teams of people. I just wanted to use my existing skills and some time. My goal was also to see how little investment I could make in cash to do this and how much “traffic” I could generate by spending time with social media tools to promote the site.

I set only a few rules:

  1. No manuals, no "...for Dummies" books, and no classes
  2. No cheap tricks for traffic or loyalty.
  3. Be authentic.

A moment to disclose a few more details about myself to help contextualize my experience and confess where I may have a head start on the average consumer who could attempt the same exercise. I have never had an HTML class, or owned an HTML for Dummies book. And, although I learn from reading I mostly like to learn by doing. I have worked in technology for 16 years, but I am not an engineer or software developer. In our household, I am the one that serves as the home IT manager, setting up the wireless network or Wii and configuring new PCs. In Geoffrey Moore terms, I am an early adopter of technology. My husband is a laggard. Consequently, my expectations for technology experiences are high, but I tend to think like a mainstream consumer. When I interact with new products and services, I just want them to operate intuitively, and to be able to enjoy innovation without frustration, hassle, or a disproportionate amount of time to figure out how to get things running.

Lesson 1

Not sure what I’d learn first hand, I set out with an open mind, taking tips from folks along the way. This multi-part series will chronicle my experience and help share my lessons. And the first lesson is: What you learn isn't always what you expect to learn.

Stay tuned.


14 Folks I Follow To Be Inspired

frog design | Headquartered in San Francisco
Should designers be thinking more like...gardeners?  about 4 hours ago
Mariana Díaz | Mexico City
@nicdesign It gives me more the idea of an observer not an authority :-)  11:11 AM Oct 28th
think design change  
Roger Martin's new blog: (via @nicdesign)  7:45 PM Oct 26th
Arne van Oosterom | Amsterdam , Netherlands
let's do this again soon! @Lerou #miniunconference @wimrampen @forwardmonkey @HGaertner @roscamabbing @iterations @cdn @sandravanvliet  about 3 hours ago
DMI | International  
RT @mellimbace DMI Conf. Day 1 Recap : Joe Ferry, Alan Webber and Live Futures 2020 - #DMIannual  about 7 hours ago
Jason Pfaff | 68130  
Innovation shouldn't be your goal. Creating over the top, breathtaking experiences no one thought possible should be your goal.  about 13 hours ago
Bruce Nussbaum | global  
CNN's redesign caught in the crossfire: (via @RGA)  11:49 AM Oct 28th
Bake D. In | 3rd dimension Following
Enjoy =]RT @mortenkjaer My head is bursting with ideas. Can't wait to create truly innovative products + build the marketing right into them  about 7 hours ago
Fast Company | New York, NY Following
Google Voice Slapfight: AT&T, Sex Chats, and Some Hot FCC Action  about 4 hours ago
San Francisco Following
Executive creative director, Jared Benson (@benson) will present our mobile and multi-screen design thinking at @PHXDW tomorrow.  4:46 PM Oct 23rd
Braden Kelley | Seattle, WA
Planning and Designing Excellent Service - - Damian Kernahan - #service #excellence #customers #loyalty  8 minutes ago
Matthew E. May | Westlake Village, California Following
Both outcomes use same process! RT @dankeldsen mentioned in our #innovation webinar - toyota is both disruptor and incremental innovator  about 5 hours ago
Providence, RI Following
G O L E A R N !  about 5 hours ago
David Armano | Chicago / Austin Following
@jamiesanford amazingly freaky.  5 minutes ago


Who would you add?