Posts tagged “consumers”

This week @ Portigal

It’s a crazy busy week for us, focusing on just a couple of big things

  • Julie and Tamara are in LA with our client team for the rest of the week, interviewing consumers and professionals (we can’t say what type of professionals they are but from what we’ve learned about them in setting up the interviews, they are highly accomplished) – no doubt all the interviews will be utterly fascinating
  • Steve is in Dublin, co-leading a two-day masterclass for the IxDA Student Design Challenge – we’ve got a really great agenda for the class with some special guests – and some really wonderful prizes (thank you generous sponsors!)

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • [from steve_portigal] – [This site seems aimed at designers but could also be the seed of a User Literacy effort to raise awareness among consumers] This pattern library is dedicated to Dark Patterns: user interfaces that have been designed to trick users into doing things they wouldn’t otherwise have done. Normally when you think of “bad design”, you think of laziness or mistakes. These are known as design anti-patterns. Dark Patterns are different – they are not mistakes, they are carefully crafted with a solid understanding of human psychology, and they do not have the user’s interests in mind. The purpose of this site is to catalogue various common types of Dark Pattern, and to name and shame organizations that use them. [via @kottke]
  • [from julienorvaisas] How to shrink a city [The Boston Globe] – [The shrinking economy has forced a new way of looking at strategic planning and innovation in the housing and urban planning sector.] “It’s so contrary to what most planners do, it’s contrary to what we spend our time teaching students, [which is] all about how do you manage growth and accommodate growth,” says Joseph Schilling, who teaches urban affairs and planning at Virginia Tech University and helped launch the National Vacant Properties Campaign. “The challenge for planning is how do you adapt existing tools and planning strategies to deal with an economy and market that is either totally dysfunctional or will have maybe slow, modest growth at best.”
  • [from julienorvaisas] Americans Demand Crispier Outside [The Onion – America’s Finest News Source] – [Alas, if only the elusive consumer would come out of hiding and just tell us what they want, nay, what they need!] Irate citizens have rallied in front of shops and drive-thru windows nationwide to outline their demands, which include extra chunks, meltier bits on top, that classic buttery flavor the whole family can enjoy, and a wider array of sizes, shapes, and colors to mix and match. Sources are also calling for cleanup to be a breeze.
  • [from julienorvaisas] What If Google and Bing Waged a Search War and Nobody Noticed? [Advertising Age – DigitalNext] – [Full of quippy critiques of the nutty design evolution of search, reviews, online advertising from a "real person's" perspective, this slightly ranty column by Kevin Ryan is really a lament to how beholden so many of our experiences are to today's digital monoliths.] Instant search is another one of those solutions created by engineers completely out of touch with humans. Like instant coffee, it sounds like a good idea until you have to consume it. My guess is boredom and fatigue from all that free food and the happiest work environment on the planet has finally taken its toll. In other words, idle hands solve problems that don't exist.

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • [from julienorvaisas] A Masterpiece of Nature? Yuck! [] – [The rapid calculation of stimulus described here is certainly not confined to the judging of ugly animals, but it is always as much a reflection of the subject as the object. This article is for you, if you like pictures of star-nosed moles, etc.!] As scientists see it, a comparative consideration of what we find freakish or unsettling in other species offers a fresh perspective on how we extract large amounts of visual information from a millisecond’s glance, and then spin, atomize and anthropomorphize that assessment into a revealing saga of ourselves.
  • [from julienorvaisas] Electronics Designers Struggle With Form, Function and Obsolescence [Bits Blog –] – [Planned obsolescence is nothing new, but does it necessarily follow that because electronic gadgets are not built to last we should expect to have to invest in products to address their obvious design flaws?] So is the fact that we all buy gadgets and then have to spend additional money to buy protective coverings for our electronics speak poorly of the design of these products? Jason Brush, executive VP of user experience design for Schematic, noted in an interview that the fragility of electronics today might not be a matter of form and function, but rather that gadgets are not meant to be long-lasting. “If you purchased a Leica camera a hundred years ago it would still work today. It was bulletproof,” he said. “But electronics today are not built with permanence in mind.”

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • Gathering insights by having people hand write their stories [DMI News & Views] – Asking people to tell us stories has repeatedly proven to be a rich and productive avenue for important insights. We ask people to tell us a story about a relevant event or experience. For instance, tell me about the last time you baked something from scratch. Or tell me about the last time you purchased a car. We try not to set too many rules or give too much guidance. We let them determine where the story will begin. This, after all, is what we are looking for. We ask for the story to be in writing—and ideally the story will be handwritten, if the logistics permit. We ask for the story to be as descriptive as possible—and we ask that the story be illustrated with pictures (hand drawn stick people or cuttings from magazines or from the Internet).
  • 100 Records: Project turns on fictional jackets [] – Exhibiting as "100 Records", Sonny Smith, a San Francisco musician, artist and writer, commissioned nearly 100 artists from around the world to create the artwork for 100 45 rpm record jackets that represent more than 60 fictional bands and singers.

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • Dan Formosa on Why Marketing Research Makes Us Cringe [interactions magazine] – In a bigger picture, design research needs to expand its techniques to more fully understand the potential of design. It’s bad enough that some of these marketing-based methods continue to be practiced in a rote manner in the field of marketing. (Delving into technical discussions involving both logics and statistics can bring many people, in marketing and design, far from their comfort level.) But blindly applying marketing methods to design creates a double whammy that should be avoided at all costs.


Most companies would like their products and services to be something consumers have a relationship with; more than just a consumable good. Emotional relationships between people and things are one of the holy grails of product development.

Yet, in our research, we hear over and over from people that they simply don’t think this way about many of the products in their lives (particularly electronic goods).

Cars, however, are different. Cars get discussed fondly, wistfully, and passionately. They get named. They have histories.

As testament to cars’ tremendous resonance, look at the popularity of the Fast and Furious movies. And of the new Transformers film, which features vehicles as both heroes and villains, and which just bagged the highest weekday opening gross in movie history–despite being described (before the opening) by many in the media as a bad movie.

A number of factors about cars–perhaps the way they contribute to our personal histories, the level of complexity that lends them “personality,” the patina they acquire over time–transform them for many of us from mere objects into relationship material.

Camaro t-shirt, official licensed GM product, bought for $7.50 at Crossroads Trading used clothes

But products that are more towards the consumable end of the spectrum can also evoke emotions and create a sense of relationship. I think about Topps Bazooka bubble gum from my childhood–one of the most literally consumable products–and how evocative it remains, many years after I’ve ceased being a “user.”

Topps Bazooka Gum, photo by Sarah Lillian on Flickr

What’s it like for you? What are the ingredients that differentiate between just using something, and having a richer type of experience?

Related posts:

Object Love, Object Lust…
Packaging Surprise
Rage With The Machine
Miata Farewell

Listen, Do You Want To Know A Secret? (My Age of Conversation chapter)

Six months ago my chapter in Age of Conversation 2 was published. Although I’m reprinting my chapter here, it’s for a good cause (Variety) so you might want to buy a copy from Lulu, although I heard Amazon sales may be coming soon, too.

Listen, Do You Want To Know A Secret?

We’re in the business of digging for insights and that frequently takes us into the territory where secrets reside. Recently my colleague and I sat in the bedroom of a young rapper and watched as he demonstrated his creative process. While playing a simple backing track on iTunes, he improvised into a hand held recorder for a few minutes. Afterwards, he sat down with a notebook and reviewed his recording, scribbling furiously as he refined the lyrics. Finally, he took the new text and performed it against the same backing track.

Had anyone ever witnessed this particular music-making process before? We didn’t think so. But was it a secret? Probably not. Although it may have been hidden from view, the details of his process were undiscovered, rather than secret.

To reveal the undiscovered, the first thing to do is look. Go where something is happening, and watch. Sometimes we have to do more than look, we have to ask. Find someone who is involved in something that is happening, and ask them.

To get to the “secrets”, we have to do more than ask, we have to listen. Listening is much more complex than asking. It means adjusting our mindset and ensuring that we’re truly giving permission for secrets to be revealed.


It’s easy to fall into the familiar mode where we consider secrets as that which is deliberately hidden because it’s inherently bad or wrong. And although only the Shadow knows for sure what evil lurks in the hearts of men, consider that much of what is kept secret is out of our fear of violating social norms (the unspoken rules of a culture that determine what is and isn’t acceptable) and being embarrassed rather than being sent to jail. As producers of goods and services and experiences, it’s powerful and useful to understand these fears.

Those secrets are not unattainable, but they require a significant listening effort. The engine that drives the Age of Conversation isn’t talking, but listening.

Are Americans Falling Out of Love with Their Televisions?

The latest Pew study asks about what Americans see as luxuries vs. necessities, as part of a longitudinal study of attitudes towards major categories of goods.

Clear majorities in polls conducted since 1973 have said that their TV set is something they couldn’t do without. Yet the latest Pew Research Center survey suggests Americans’ long love affair with their TV sets may be cooling.

Whether prompted by the recession or by the lure of new computers and other devices that can display TV programs as well as other kinds of streaming video, barely half (52%) of the public now say a television is a necessary part of their lives. That’s a decline of 12 percentage points since 2006 and the lowest proportion since 1973 to view a television as essential — even lower than the 57% who said a TV set was a necessity when the question was first asked in 1973.

Young adults have led the march away from the TV screen: Only 38% of those 30 or younger say a TV is a necessity, a 15-point decline since 2006. In contrast, perceptions of a television set as a necessity declined by just 6 points to 68% among respondents or older

Now far be it for me to impugn Pew (who seem like they do really smart and interesting pulse-taking research), but as of 2007 99% of US households had at least one TV, and the average household had 2.24 sets. So what’s the relationship here between what people say and what people do? If you’ve already got a TV set, how hard is it to say it’s not a necessity? [Of course, more people are getting video content online so that’s part of the reason for the drop and Pew accounts for that, but I’m looking at the other issue]

I think we place a lot of extra importance on self-reported survey data, where people express opinions, out of context. There’s no behavioral data here about what people are actually doing (i.e., selling their TV sets to buy something more important, or holding off buying new TV sets, etc.) If people respond to the question about the importance of the TV in a new way, does that really mean the perception of the TV has changed or does it point to a different way to answer the question?

What do you think this bit of data means? What are the consequences or impacts? Who should be taking notice of it, and what should they do?

Jimmyjane’s Sex Change Operation

(Originally posted on Core77)

Ethan Imboden worked as an industrial designer for firms like Ecco and frogdesign, cranking out designs for everyday products (i.e., staplers and monitors), but grew to feel that he had something more to contribute. After starting his own design firm, he went with a client to the Adult Novelty Expo and saw bad design everywhere. He founded Jimmyjane as a response to that, and set out to use form, color, materials and so on to create premium vibrators. Now he’s a visionary creative, with strong ideas about the Jimmyjane brand and how to embody those attributes across a range of products. Imboden fits the Be A Genius and Get It Right archetype we wrote about in interactions. At least, if they are doing as well as they indicated during our recent visit, then they are “getting it right.” But we couldn’t help but wonder if there wasn’t more that they could be doing.

In addition to vibrators, Jimmyjane sells other products intended to bring sex, sexy, and sexuality forward. They’ve got candles with a spout so you can pour out melted lotiony goo for a sexy massage, heating tray doodads for the same goo that double as massagers, feel-good and smell-good lotions, etc. etc. They’ve got a soft eye mask with an embroidered Z on one side and an embroidered heart on the other: wear the mask with the Z outside when you want to sleep; put the heart on the outside to announce your interest in blindfold panky.


Despite claims that the name Jimmyjane represents their intent to serve everyone, the product line leans heavily towards the feminine, and appears in retail at places like Sephora. Meanwhile, limited-edition vibrators laser-etched with work by named artists, or covered in diamonds or platinum obviously serve an extremely narrow range of customers.


Considering all this, Jimmyjane starts to emerge as a Victoria’s Secret-meets-Harley brand. They play around the edge of naughty: you can’t buy the vibrators at Whole Foods, but you can pick up some candles. The Jimmyjane retail display in Whole Foods lets shoppers have a private bit of shocked delight when we can connect a everday purchase in a grocery store to a risque activity – and needn’t ever engage in that risque activity ourselves to get that little buzz. We can buy a Harley leash for our dog, or a wallet, or cross-brand for our truck, and get a taste of the Harley feeling without engaging in the core activity: driving a Softtail. That public/private sauciness was a driver of Victoria’s Secret growth; here, instead of underwear, Imboden is offering the halo effect of vibrators.

We saw their Theory of Everything Venn diagram that tries to map candle scents to emotional attributes of attraction, thus creating a product line logic that is slightly arrogant in its delusions of grandeur. Being led by design instead of the customer need starts to isolate the vision from reality and from bolder and bigger possibilities. Imboden told us that they don’t want to be evangelists who try to convert people to use vibrators, etc. But we asked if they were trying to lower barriers and we were met with a puzzled stare.


But Jimmyjane (or someone else who sees the opporunity) has huge potential to do some more barrier lowering. They’ve already done a tremendous reframe of sex toys from dangerous, cheap, embarrassing crap, to high-end, well-designed chic. But they are toying with reframing sexuality as part of our culture, by bringing bits and pieces of it from the backstage to the frontstage.


To grow the market (and thus their business) by bringing more people into this realm means seeing the opportunity for barrier-lowering and then doing the hard work it will take to understand how all their customers (current and potential) are perceiving those barriers. But Jimmyjane has a limited customer feedback loop (consisting of input from retailers and Ask Jimmyjane on their website). We heard about the packaging for the Rabbit vibrator (a product Jimmyjane did not design, but is selling, or as they put it, curating): because they plan for customers to have a great out-of-box experience, all products are cleaned and stocked with batteries before shipping (and the batteries are separated by a small pull-tab so they don’t run down before purchase). But they heard that customers were taking the Rabbit out of its box and after seeing that it had batteries in it assumed that it was used. Yuck! They are now redesigning the packaging to display the batteries and give the purchaser the opportunity to load the batteries themselves: it’s add-an-egg for the new millennium.


That’s a simple usability failure and it’s easily fixed, once discovered. But it suggests potential mismatches between how Jimmyjane conceives of and produces products and how customers are buying and using products (and that’s just the ones who are buying). The opportunity for growth, by revisiting what sexuality means and how products can support it, is enormous, and the possibility of Sexual Revolution 2.0, a world where sex, sexuality, and sexiness might be experienced on both sides of the green door in a more fun and carefree manner, is well within reach for a firm that has already done so much.

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • Some brands remain untouched by discounts – Yet another (rambling anecdotal) story about changes in purchase behavior. We just did an ethnographic study in this area and didn't see (or probe for) the brand-motivating power described.
    "The reasons fall mostly into three categories: old habits die hard, brand loyalty runs deep and the Economics 101 law of supply and demand means the most sought-after brands can command the best prices. Beyond that, there are some items consumers stubbornly just won't forgo — sale or not — no matter how hard they're trying to stretch their budget.

    "There are certain categories … where there are no substitutes accepted. It's infusing your brand with those things that people then say 'I have to have the real thing.'"

    Heather Fox scours stores for sales and clips coupons for food and clothing discounts. But she won't cut corners when it comes to her Marlboro Lights.

    Corlett puts it differently. "You may drink less Coke, but you're not giving up Coke," she said."

Wal-Mart dramatically retargets (ahem) based on user research

In today’s New York Times

There are “brand aspirationals” (people with low incomes who are obsessed with names like KitchenAid), “price-sensitive affluents” (wealthier shoppers who love deals), and “value-price shoppers” (who like low prices and cannot afford much more).

The new categories are significant because for the first time, Wal-Mart thinks it finally understands not just how people shop at its stores, but why they shop the way they do.

Of course those segment labels are dehumanizing and unpleasant, but the source for this new understanding, years of in-depth studies with customers, must have been some very insightful research. Congrats to friends who I presume were the ones that actually did that research (even though they’ve moved on from Wal-Mart)!

Update: The friends disclaim any credit for this work!
Update2: This leaked PPT presumably explains their methodology.

Virtual Anthropology

Virtual Anthropology is the mini-meme of the moment, I guess – a post from Trendwatching that highlights all the ways you can, from the comfort of your desk, learn about what people around the world are doing, photographing, wearing, buying, etc.

As usual, when you read about a shortcut to actual research written by someone who really has no clue about doing real research, they omit the valuable part – asking questions. Asking why! What is the meaning of the clothing you wear? Tell me a story about why you’ve got those items in your fridge?

It takes skill to unearth the insights – you can’t start and finish with self-reported data. Otherwise, you’re just a step above a mood board or something artifact-based. Insights come from people – from interacting with people, dynamically. Not simply observing their shit.

I feel like a broken record on this one, but whatever.


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