Product Innovation never ceases to amaze me. I was given a nice box with a couple of artisan English ales over Christmas. The packaging, the shape of the bottles, the names of the beers all gave me the impression that I was about to taste (and have by now :-)) truly remarkable beers brewn in traditional fashion. All in all a nice example of intentional customer experience design. But then, when I was just about to discard the packaging, I noticed this word on the side of the box: Innovation. What was the word ‘Innovation’ doing on the packaging of a consumer product that was produced using traditional methods? To be honest, I still don’t know but it does demonstrate that product innovation has gone mainstream and is deemed important for all types of consumer products including traditional beverages.
Product Innovation back in the 80’s, and before it, was the domain of big companies. These companies could afford large Research and Development departments with big budgets. At companies such as Philips, new Consumer products were developed behind closed doors. Clever brains came up with new product innovations that the businesses then turned into consumer products. Patents were filed left, right and centre to protect the product and then it was launched. The whole route from inception to delivery was controlled by a single entity.
A lot has changed, nowadays, product innovation is no longer the domain of large companies. After all, even small beer brewers pride themselves on doing product innovation. This is partially because of the advances in technology that make it easier for small companies to develop consumer products without the need for capital intensive equipment. Think of Raspberry Pi’s, 3D printing, rapid software prototyping tools, cloud based apps with API’s to allow integration with others, etc. In addition, the world has moved on to using more an more complex supply chains with companies specialising in a particular service. Most notably is manufacturing, there are more options available for having your consumer product manufactured than ever before, most notable in China.
In summary, product innovation has moved on from single large companies doing everything in-house to multiple companies large and small working together to develop consumer products that couldn’t even, dare I say it, have been developed in-house by the blue chip companies of the, not so distant, past. This model is not new, but is one that the film industry has used for decades. Different parties get together for the creation of a particular film and when create disperse and re-group in a different formation to make the next. This is the ‘film set’ model that we is more and more adopted for product innovation.
If today’s product innovation depends on the activities of different entities (companies) then this has consequences for the way the customer experience is designed. Compare Android with iOS. The customer experience of the first one is delivered by multiple players each with their own slant on what this should be. The customer experience for the iOS is tightly controlled by Apple, resulting in an overall consistent experience. The Android customer experience if much richer in terms of features and more dynamic in terms of the evolution of its feature because of the lack of a ‘traffic controller’. Apple’s feature list is more and more lagging because it is the only one who decides what will be incorporated. This is more akin to the product innovation of the blue chip companies of the 80’s which in the long term will prove to be Apple’s downfall. A company, however large, only has finite resources which inevitably limit the extent to which you can grow the overall customer experience.
I think it is time for those working on product innovation to realise that they are not just jointly creating and delivering a feature rich consumer product but are jointly responsible for creating a customer experience that is as intended. This doesn’t happen by accident, this requires debate, foreword thinking, closer collaboration and last but not least a user centred approach Good films have good story lines, and all players on the set know what they are contributing to.
Product innovation can only result in a truly remarkable sustainable customer experience if all involved are aware of the role they play in delivering an intentional experience and how to fill it. Just like a film set.
Leo Poll is Director of Akendi UK. A firm dedicated to creating intentional experiences through end-to-end experience design, to learn more about Akendi or user experience design, visit www.akendi.com.
Akendi is a product strategy, user experience design and usability research firm. We are passionate about the creation of intentional experiences – whether those involve digital products, physical products, mobile, service or bricks-and-mortar interactions. We work shoulder-to-shoulder to optimize the experiences you deliver. Akendi Corporate Overview (PDF).
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