Customer Development & Design Thinking

How do product designers work?

Product designers first seek to understand customer experiences… They work in tandem with customers to design products… They build sketches/prototypes and iterate forward with customer feedback.

On that note, I recommend an excellent article: “3 Ways to Think Like a Designer”.  It strongly resonates with our quest for Customer Enlightenment!

Design thinkers gather information that helps us understand customer experiences. Once we understand the people surrounding our business challenges—their needs, desires, problems and aspirations—we can identify relevant business opportunities. Then we experiment our way forward, prototyping new solutions and getting these solutions out in front of customers as early as possible. As we prototype, we learn from people by observing, gathering feedback, and refining our approach.

How do high-tech products get built?

The successful ones follow a similar process, whereby product developers reach out to customers to understand their pains and needs, engage in customer development, and build their products with customer feedback.  Hats off to Steve Blank, author of The Four Steps to the EpiphanyThe Four Steps to the Epiphany, and father of Customer Development, for his leadership and teachings on this. The benefits are manifold, and countless startups have embraced his methodology with success. If you haven’t read his book, get your copy today!

We are concerned about the casualties in the trenches though… where products are being built in a vacuum, with little customer understanding. What can we do to help? Granted everyone should read Steve Blank’s book. Is there anything else? In particular we are curious to understand if something on the behavioral side is preventing technologists from enjoying fruitful interactions with customers, the way product designers do.

Is it a lack of skills? A communication divide? What do you think is the hurdle?

We’ll go interview engineers and designers to get to the bottom of those questions… Meanwhile suggestions and comments welcome!

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One thought on “Customer Development & Design Thinking

  1. I think you’ve homed in on the key question: what prevents techno-centric product makers from engaging with customers, or employing design thinking such as that described in the article?

    It may be a question of human motivation: do some of us simply not care about addressing customer need, but instead pursue a development for reasons of personally interesting discovery, or fascination with a technology and its elegance or possibilities? Certainly these motivations are powerful, and in many cases, what makes someone a technologist in the first place.

    There’s a notion of “inter-subjectivity” in the creation of art, especially of fiction but applicable across the spectrum. To make something that matters, the artist must set his or her subjectivity free. But purely subjective work may only be relevant or interesting to the artist if it does not resonate in the viewer. For that to happen, a moment of shared understanding and intimacy, of “inter-subjectivity,” must occur. It’s possible this same dynamic applies in the creation of great product. Steve Jobs may have a subjective vision, but it must resonate in a large enough set of prospective customers to be inter-subjective.

    Since as I suspect many product makers feel customer development somehow surrenders the subjective vision, perhaps an understanding of the power and necessity of inter-subjectivity can help. No need to simply surrender one’s visions to market requirements. Instead, the opportunity to find where your vision resonates within a ready market that cannot otherwise get what it needs.

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