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Friday 15 June 2007

On Product Innovation...

…from “How users use it” to “How users will use it”…

A generation of usability people seem to have got trained on usability methods that espouse mapping the user’s mental model and using that for design. Ideally whatever the intention is, practically, it stymies new idea generation. Mostly, it ends up generating an existing usage pattern and the resulting design is almost always cliche.

Traditional usability methods, because of their origins in psychology, concentrate on identifying present inefficiencies in user task performance and improving them assuming that the other influencing factors like systems, environment and technology are given as part of the brief. Convergence is the single-most important philosophy here.

Innovation differs. It questions the whole system and is based on foretelling the future. Therefore, it calls for explorative methods which are part of an artist or designer’s toolset. Divergence and convergence together form the bane of innovation.

One of the tools for innovation is scenario building. Scenario building, as in usability practice is focussed on mapping the current usage situation. However, for innovation its a tool to foretell the future. One needs to start by diverging and constructing scenarios for the future, say, 15 years, 10 years, 5 years from now. A mix of evaluation and intuition can help converge on the most promising idea. The next step then is to trace back the path to the present, identifying a reverse-track along the way that can be used to put in place all the systems and artifacts required to precede and therefore facilitate the future scenario. Jeff Bezos’ Amazon.com could not have been born had there not been in place the preceding ideas of a credit card, the required technology and the internet, all of them coming together on the track to create the reality of Amazon.com as we know it today.

Its been said that Google never needs to sell itself much - all it does is identify what is going to happen tomorrow and just be present there when the time arrives. However, its not so easy - it takes a careful amount of scenario building for the future to be there when it matters, while putting together all the parts of the jig-saw puzzle along the way.

1 comment:

Zia said...

Thanks for writing this.

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