How design works: is tech really leading?

Innovation is often technology-driven or at least inspired by new technology. New tech discoveries can change the way we perceive, use, experience, and live life day-to-day. But the strange thing is that people almost never choose a product because of its technological innovation – rather, they choose the new product or service that gives them a good (repeatable) experience.

Why is it, then, that the technical specs and benefits are used to promote so many new products and services? Maybe it’s because the creators are so excited by the innovation in their R&D that they think that is where the marketing focus should be. I think they are wrong.

People buy cars because they are attracted by the styling, overwhelmed by the comfort, pleased with the ease of use. I have never heard anyone say it was a car’s beautiful engine that made him finally decide to buy it. The car industry is a technology-driven business. The amount of technological research is immense. Nonetheless, the really futuristic visions and changes are slow to appear – most likely because companies want to hang on to their existing profitable business for as long as possible.

Is tech really leading (3) cropA design engineer told me once a story about a very technology-driven product: an AGV (automatic guided vehicle) that takes care of all the automatic storage functions in a big warehouse. This company’s AGV had the highest technical performance in some areas and was equal to its competitors in all the others. But, when the final purchase decision was made, the company lost a lot of sales to an Italian company. It turned out that company directors tended to favour a good solution that looked fantastic, rather than the most technically brilliant solution, which looked, well, technical.

Technology can be an engine, but it is never in the lead. It’s the way it is translated into an experience, service or product that wins us over. Stay out of the tech zone; it’s good to be there when researching, developing or engineering.

But think mainly about the users; how will the product affect, change, improve their lives. If the new technology doesn’t make a difference on a big enough scale, skip it; you really won’t need it.