Archive for June, 2008

Square Watermelons

June 30th, 2008 38 comments

Talk about rethinking the box, this is a perfect case where people stepped back and really looked at the problem:

This article also has some good truths about steps to innovation:

  1. Don’t Assume
  2. Question Habits
  3. Be Creative
  4. Look for a better way
  5. Impossibilities often aren’t


True innovation makes it easier to to more with less. Remember these words when you are approaching your next problem. First figure out what you are trying to do, then step back and make sure you are not “stuck in a box”.

Are you doing things now because that’s the way you’ve always done them? Because you don’t know how to do it another way? Because there isn’t a better way?

There is always a better way, sometimes it just hasn’t been invented yet.

Innovative Design — Simplicity

June 20th, 2008 39 comments

A couple of years ago I was walking to a coffee shop using my iPod.  I turned it on in my pocket and it blared in my ears.  I instinctively turned it down with a quick circular motion of my thumb (iPod still in my pocket).  I cycled through a few songs before I realized the current playlist failed capture my interest, so I pulled my iPod out of my pocket and changed from “Acoustic” to “Alternative” (The sounds of U2, Coldplay, and Radiohead where the perfect backdrop to a cold February morning).

After I changed my playlist I stared at my iPod realizing I had just accomplished something remarkable.  I just filtered through 3,000+ songs to find the perfect sound track for my short walk to the coffee shop.  What amazed me even further was how complacent I had grown to the task; I expected it to be easy, and it was.  

Not only was my iPod incredibly simple, but it was incredibly powerful.  It had everything I needed with nothing left over.  No superfluous feature that 5% of a user group just had to have.  The iPod innovated my music experience.

John Maeda in “The Laws of Simplicity” said:

“Simplicity is about subtracting the obvious, and adding the meaningful.” 

The iPod epitomized that concept.  Everything I needed was at my fingertips.  Everything I didn’t need was hidden or simply not present. More importantly however, the iPod was intuitive.  I was able to operate it instinctively when it was too loud and by touch when I wanted to change songs; every button had a function, nothing was wasted.   

I expanded my understanding of Maeda’s statement when I realized that it was easy to design a product with minimal controls but extremely difficult to design a product with minimal controls that makes the user feel uninhibited.

Innovative products remove the obvious and add the meaningful without being complicated.


June 16th, 2008 36 comments

By delivery, I don’t mean an elaborate marketing campaign.  Garr Reynolds, author of “Presentation Zen”, uses the idea of an “elevator-test” to encourage presenters to keep their message simple.  Essentially, if you were in an elevator and had to sell someone your idea in 30-45 seconds, would you be able to effectively convey your message?  I feel the same basic concept is present in all innovative products, but products rarely get 30-45 seconds.

The idea of 15-second marketing parallels Reynolds’ with one key difference. You don’t get to convey your message, your product does.  Truly innovative products must be able to market themselves.  Your product has to be so simple, so intuitive, and so easy to understand that a person can fully grasp its purpose in about 15-30 seconds.  What is Youtube? A place for users to upload videos.  What is Facebook?  A place for people to connect with friends.  Sure these applications are more complex, but the ability for users to grasp and understand a product’s purpose with 15 seconds of interaction, a text-message, or a 140 character twitter post is key to modern consumers.  Let’s consider Google vs. Yahoo!.     

One home page has a single text box and a button that says, “Google Search”, the other has more eye-candy and graphics than I can count.  If I have a friend who is new to computers and they look over my shoulder, I might say,   

“This is Google, you use it to search the Internet.”  

My friend would immediately know what to do when they visit With very little explanation they can use Google.  Yahoo!, however, is a little less intuitive.  When explaining Yahoo! to my friend I might say,  

“This is Yahoo!, this is where you type in your search…No, you don’t have to worry about all the other stuff, just use this part for search. That other stuff is there just in case you want to use it.”  

I’m not saying Yahoo! is bad–obviously they have been successful; but the page is full of distractions and eye-candy.  Simply put, the interface is intimidating to new users.  Intimidating products do not make very good innovative products.  Google assumes you need search and gives you the option to add extras, Yahoo! assumes you need everything.

Simple design makes for simple delivery.  If a consumer feels they must have your product after 15 seconds of interaction, you’re on your way towards innovation.

Categories: Project Rethink Tags:


June 8th, 2008 31 comments

What is meant by “Product Definition?”  Product definition is actually very simple–though often done improperly.  Definition answers the question, “What do you want your product or services to do?”  A simple question, but answering this question before any other work is done on your product will help you on your path to innovation.  

Careful, the most common mistake in product definition is defining your product with technology.  When you define your product with technology, you are limiting yourself in the long run.  Henry Ford was once quoted saying, “If I’d have asked my customers what they wanted, they would have told me “A faster horse.’”

True innovation is not about providing consumers with the next fastest horse.  True innovation replaces the box.

Imagine if Apple had entered the mobile music industry with the mindset, “We will make the most advanced CD player anyone has ever seen”.  At the time, hard disk media players were expensive and not practical–in fact, there was very little demand from consumers.  Designing the next best CD Player would have been the safe-logical business move on paper and may have put Apple on top for a few months, but it wouldn’t have been innovative and we wouldn’t have iPods today.  Instead of designing the next best CD player Apple asked the question, “What do people want?”  Music.  ”Ok, let’s design a product that gives people access to their music.” 

Figure out what you want your product to do, and then worry about the how.

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More, Less, Easy

June 1st, 2008 32 comments
Innovation makes it easier to do more with less.  These three principals are present in almost every “innovative” product on the market.  Every earth-shattering invention that history remembers as innovation made it easier to do more with less (time, money, effort, etc) from the user.  This realization is hardly worth an “Ah-ha” moment.  But as it turns out, the application of these principles can be surprisingly difficult and somewhat counter-intuitive.    
Innovation is often determined by history.  You can never really know if consumers will embrace a product until it’s on the market.  Everyone sits at the brainstorming table thinking their idea is the next big thing, though few actually taste this victory.  The problem is not necessarily the idea; more appropriately, the problem is the formation and development of that idea into a product.  When innovation fails to spark on a truly great idea the results are typically due to product designers making assumptions about their users, or product designers over complicating their product to address every possible scenario.   These design strategies often result in contradictions, contradictions that lead to product flaws.   
Even the best marketers are unable to fight the viral power of modern-day consumers.  Whether it’s a negative comment on a product review or a mockumentary of your product on Youtube; the slightest glitch can spell disaster to innovation.  Even if marketers are able to cover up the one flaw in your product, consumers will eventually find it and exploit it.  That is why the innovation cannot just rely on the marketing of your product, but it careful attention must be paid in its development.   
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