Recently, I had an interesting conversation with a Medical Equipment Designer turned Entrepreneur at a business networking function. We chatted about an array of topics (current events, politics, sports etc.) and eventually got around to her new business venture.

In the course of highlighting the reasons for her move to becoming a businesswoman, she made this comment that I found interesting and stuck with me throughout the event, and even afterwards.

“The creation of new products tends to be ‘features’ focused and not necessarily people and or problem focused”

She further elaborated on the fact that in her years of working with a wide-spectrum of brands, one of the biggest problem businesses typically face is being hung up of the “new and shining” – essentially, how it’s a race to keep adding more stuff.

The more I contemplated over these comments, the more it got me thinking:

  • Why do businesses in fact focus on features and forget the people?
  • Why do we add more stuff to existing stuff?
  • What then is the true purpose of design?

Let’s unpack these inquiries of mine.

Features vs. People

My immediate hypothesis to the question of why businesses tend to invest a lot more time and resources in features (for products or services) at the expense of people is this: features are easy, people aren’t.

Let me explain.

The unfortunate reality is that businesses tend to work in isolation when it comes to product design and innovation. Most times they work in the theoretical vacuum of facts, figures and information; this aids in the conception of ideas for new product benefits or service offerings, which most frequently, are barren of any real-life context and relevance to the consumer.

Look at the “new” technological appendage to the human body – the mobile phone.

How many of the glossy accumulations to the new model do you actually use? How many of the sparkling additions are authentic needs versus irrelevant nice to haves? If you’re being honest not that much! Most of said additions you can tell were conjured up in an R&D (Research and Development) lab somewhere devoid of any consumer context.

Businesses seem to shy away from – or at best, cut corners – when it comes to the investing the time and financial capital required to genuinely understanding their target audience. As such, they come up with shiny but superfluous additions.

More! More!! More!!!
Look all around; you’re inundated with so much stuff.  From your cable news screen (which has a million and one things going on), to the number of advertising messages, or the number of emerging/competing media channels – it’s a lot to take in.

This straight-line way of thinking that says “more is better”, in most cases, is born out the fact that brands operate in uncertainty. As previously mentioned, because there is an unfamiliarity/true understanding of with the end user, businesses add a bunch of stuff to an already robust product or service offering with the hope that something sticks, and that consumers find something useful.

As Marty Neumeier - author of the book “Zag: The #1 Strategy for High-Performance Brands” - put it:

“The cloud of uncertainty that follows innovation is one of the primary reasons companies don’t think radical.”

The tragic result of all this clutter – be it, product, feature, advertising, message and media clutter – is that consumers, as humans, deal with clutter the best way they know how: by blocking and ignoring it.

Problem First, Design Second
One key insight that the Medical Equipment Designer whom I met revealed during our conversation, was that her team started meeting directly with the patients, before commencing any design work. This she said was revolutionary and completely changed the way the utility (and profitability) of the designed equipment.

This was primarily because in having the one-on-one with the patients, her team was able to uncover the complexities and nuances involved with the said patient ailment in a way that the textbooks and case studies couldn’t. The equipment they went on to build were designed with empathy and built to tackle pertinent patient problems.

The products and services that stand the test of time are those that are relevant. Their innovation designed isn’t developed in a vacuum, is worthwhile, and solve problems that matter and enrich the lives of consumers.

Never forget that the laser-beam goal of any product or service is to solve problems.


Written by David Fastuca @Locomote 


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