The company I work for releases products and applications. They use a process based on fixing problems and making impovements based on customer complaints (responsively).
This seems like a flawed system to me, I would expect that anticipating the needs of your customers (actively) via usability labs, focus groups etc. would yield a far better public opinion, and more successful products in general.
What I am looking for is info on how other companies work this process, and some sort of information on how a more usable product (both hardware and software) can help your market…
I think cg will fire in some great advice for you here in a few minutes, but I always like to think of this quote, I’m not sure who said it but it goes like this: “the best way to predict the future is to invent it”
I think there is a lot to be said for empatheticly putting yourself in the users “shoes” and intuitively designing product, in addition to all of the front end research, testing, user groups, etc.
It’s funny, at my company we’re doing this right now! I’ve been brought in to start up an in-house design practice at a company that has does exactly what you’ve described: after the fact “validation” testing.
My primary mission now is to front-load our process by putting this (as well as design research) as early as possible in our stage-gate PD process.
I haven’t found a single person who disagrees with this, so why does the problem exist? Here’s what I’ve discovered:
Back end “validation” testing isn’t going away. Engineers need it to validate that they did what they said they were going to do. Unfortunately out of desparation internal, user-advocates have grabbed onto these tests and tried to bend them to their will. Pretty soon people started thinking of these back-end tests as a fundamental way to divine user-needs and to improve the product. These people are perpetually frustrated with the fact that it never seems to happen, and they’ve thrown their hands up in disgust, feeling powerless to change the system.
Marketing typically owns the front-end process. They’ll point to their “market research” and “voice of the customer” and develop a “user needs” document. Market Research is not Design Research, and Alan Cooper does a great job explaining why in “The Inmates are Running the Asylum.” Also note that in many organizations design is a function of Marketing!
In many companies, there is no user-centered design practice, so product managers typically go with what they’ve got in terms of resources and process. This points to the fact that the only way to fix it is to convince management that front-loaded design is vital to their future success. They must buy into it and be willing to change their PD process in order for front-loaded design to function. In my company, this happened because they had several good experiences with IDEO and Cooper, but realized they couldn’t foot the bill fulltime! Cooper in fact has been consulting quite a bit on helping companies build internal capabilities, and was in fact partly responsible for placing me here.
re; YO’s “best way to predict the future is to invent it” quote, I agree!! Just this morning I listened to a Doug Hall “Brain Brew” Podcast and they interviewed one of the authors of the new book “Blue Ocean Strategy.” In it, the author makes essentially the same statement: stop benchmarking the competition and start “creating uncontested market space and make the competition irrelevant.” (PS: Hall says this is the best biz book he’s read in the last 5 years. I would disagree since Jim Collins “Good to Great” came out in 2001.)