Most Products Are Pin-the-Tail-on-the-Donkey

Many products are still technology driven. Even services are technology driven. Many organizations are still engineering driven. It’s a very expensive approach.

Search for Empathy

Bringing empathy to design is very important if you want to add meaning to the products and services we create. In this series Indi Young (author of Mental Models and founding partner of Adaptive Path) shares her thoughts about this subject.

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Your organization invents something no one else does (as well, yet). The rest of the process goes like this: I have this tail. I put it on the donkey. I spend money testing and fixing the tail to get it closer to what the donkey wants it to do. I also spend money on marketing and sales people to convince the donkey I have what it needs.

Why do we waste money like this? It’s very easy to get caught up in the excitement of innovation. Most of us hear about something that can be done and adore taking it one step farther. Example: technology is able to discern between voices speaking? Why not make a mobile app that can measure the give-and-take in a conversation? Never mind the fact that the app would be an awkward contribution to any conversation, even if used covertly. The initial perception to seeing the results probably be “Hey, cool gadget!” or “Do you think I talk too much!?!?” Ironically, it would be a great application to use for ourselves as we practice running these deep conversations with possible customers using as few words as possible. But who were the designers empathizing with when they designed the talk-o-meter?

Often we receive a command from someone like, “figure out a cool way to mash up these two huge databases about London that’s visually interesting.” I encourage you to push back on the command a little and perfect it into something involving your empathy for people. “Figure out a visually interesting way for people who are moving to London to explore which neighborhood to live in.” This empathic perspective might require more than just the original mega-databases specified in the original request. In addition to housing prices and commute times, you will want to allow folks to choose crime history, traffic flow, noise and air pollution sources, special tax zones, income levels, school scores, restaurant reviews and ages, tree counts, architectural types, or frequency of art galleries or non-franchise cafés— whatever is important to them. All this information does exist as data. Now each person can identify their own unique considerations when exploring neighborhoods in a city. Now you are designing with a person as your primary concern, rather than letting data or technology limit your thinking.

Indi Young

Indi Young is a problem solver by heart. She is the author of 'Mental Models' (Rosenfeld Media) and has been working as a consultant on web applications since 1995. In 2001 she co-founded Adaptive Path. Indi has worked with many different clients, including Visa, Charles Schwab, Sybase, Agilent, Dow Corning, Microsoft, and PeopleSoft.

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