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The Altered Bride or Lessons Learned from Design Innovators
(Marketing Memo, August, 2008)
Embarrassed young brides must buy wedding gowns a size or two larger
than their street clothing since wedding gowns are still designed to
fit the less athletic women of the 1950's. Manufacturers of wedding
gowns have not recalibrated their patterns to meet the changing needs
of their customers. In contrast, manufacturers highlighted in "Product
Design: The Journal Report," The Wall Street Journal, June 23,
2008, demonstrate a remarkable ability to adapt to their customers'
changing needs. Following are five lessons learned from these articles:
- Become an anthropologist. Observe how people use your offerings
in the field. The producer of the first commercial portable masonry
saw designed a lightweight saw with the blade on the right side, which
was inconvenient for most masons. This error would not have occurred
had the company observed masons at work and not relied on reports
from contractors and suppliers. A later version of the saw had the
blade positioned for use by either the right or the left hand.
- Seek help from current users when making product improvements.
Construction companies cannot hire enough operators of earth moving
equipment. To recruit new operators and retain older operators exhausted
from manipulating up to 15 levers and three foot pedals, Caterpillar
Inc. spent seven years developing a joystick-controlled grader. The
company then asked novice and veteran operators to test the prototype.
To please both groups of operators, Caterpillar provided the prototype
with both a joystick and a steering wheel. Veteran operators came
to like the joystick and suggested removing the steering wheels. This
design change lowered costs and improved operator visibility.
- Seize every opportunity to gain market feedback. When Levi
Strauss was conducting a focus group of young girls, the company seized
a golden opportunity and asked the mothers of the girls what they
did not like about their own blue jeans. Using input from the ad hoc
mothers group, the company created a new line of affordable, figure-flattering
- Find new ways to use existing technology. Caterpillar adapted
joystick technology originally intended for computer games. (See the
- Try, try, and try again. A recurring theme in the Wall
Street Journal articles is that new product designers develop
and test and re-test a succession of prototypes in the lab and in
the field to find designs that work. Many manufacturers also ask employees
to test their prototypes.
These five lessons indicate that collaborating with customers or users
when designing new products is a win-win situation. When you show that
you value your customers' input, you also show that you value your customers.
Customers feel good about themselves and about your company. This increases
brand loyalty. People who have helped design a product have an investment
Copyright © Ruth Winett. All rights reserved.
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