Tuesday, November 25, 2008

When design matters!

An interesting article comparing the design culture in Apple and Motorola, among others. Interesting to note how design have become the single ubiquitous decider of a product's success, or failure, in the consumer markets. Taken from here:

Product with great design becomes amazing customer experience
21 Nov 2008, 0346 hrs IST,

By: Robert Brunner & Stewart Emery

In 1997, shortly after Steve Jobs returned to Apple, Dell’s founder and chairman, Michael S Dell, was asked at the Gartner Symposium and ITxpo 97 how he would fix financially troubled Apple. “What would I do?” Dell said. “I’d shut it down and give the money back to the shareholders.”

He had no idea he’d be eating those words just ten years later when Apple’s market capitalisation surpassed not just Dell’s $64 billion ($47 billion as we write this), but IBM’s as well. In mid-2007 , Apple was the most valuable computer maker in the world. Its market capitalisation stood at nearly $162 billion, $6 billion more than that of industry heavyweight IBM. At that same time, Apple’s market cap was the fourth largest among technology companies, lagging behind only Cisco ($189 billion ), Google ($208 billion), and Microsoft ($290 billion).

The message: “Apple matters.”

The question: “What’s to learn?”

On the second day after Jobs came back to Apple, Tim Bajarin , recognised as a leading analyst and futurist covering the field of personal computers and consumer technology, was invited to meet with him.

One of the questions Bajarin asked Jobs was how he planned to get the computer maker back on the road to profitability. To his surprise, one of the foundational solutions offered was “industrial design.”

At the time, this made no sense. However, Apple soon introduced the headturning iMacs with their bold colours, which threw the stodgy industry and its boring beige PCs for a loop. Apple followed up with the introduction of the iPod, ever-sleeker iMacs, and the iPhone, hailed by PC Magazine columnist Lance Ulanoff as “the most important product of the still-young 21st century.”

Now the company is shaking up the notebook market with the thin, light, and stylish MacBook Air, and has taken on the video rental market with the Apple TV.

Apple has built a design-driven culture that knows how to connect with its customers in a deeply emotional way. Apple products are portals to an amazing menu of continuing experiences that matter to a lot of us. Over time, Michael Dell built a brilliantly designed computer manufacturing and delivery heavyweight.

For a long time (by technology standards), Dell was the 800-pound gorilla in the space. Times change. Pretty soon, other makers mastered supply-chain management, which is now the price of admission . The PC itself was relegated to commodity status.

What to do?

Become brilliant at using design to provide an amazing customer experience.

You know that design is on everyone’s mind — it’s almost a mantra. You see a new product a car, an iPod, or the latest cutting-edge cell phone, and you might think that a fairly straightforward process was involved in the product design. In some cases, this might be true, though often it’s not.

As a matter of fact, the process that delivers a good design — the physical embodiment of the product and how it looks and feels to a customer , which is so important for success — is often driven more by serendipity than by an integrated understanding of the design’s impact on the broader idea of a product and business. Serendipity is a good thing, but counting on it isn’t.

We think most people are prone to define design, particularly good design, more narrowly than they should. When you see an iconic product, such as an iPhone, for instance, that enjoys an initial runaway success, it’s so easy to overlook the big picture of how the product fits into the company’s future — and the future of similar products in general. We want you to consider a far broader view of the significance of design.

Consider, for instance, the case of Motorola’s Razr phone. Here is a product you might consider iconic. Historically, Motorola was an innovative company. The Razr has been a runaway success, although a bit of a fluke actually, because Motorola has never really understood what it had. Motorola just came up with a nice design and a nice form factor.

The Razr was thin. Designers sacrificed some footprint (height and width) for thinness. The design tied in with the naming, “Razr,” and it worked, the imagery around the product struck a chord in people’s hearts and minds. Motorola initially marketed the Razr well, but efforts since then have largely fallen flat.

The design did not transform Motorola’s culture. The company had only a single product, and now Motorola is back in trouble because it tried to repeatedly milk this one product over and over again. It hasn’t worked. The company tried to apply the veneer of the product to other products instead of saying, “What would be the next step in creating an experience that would resonate with people?”

It did not continue to grow, build on, and invest in what made the Razr successful. Instead, Motorola chose to imitate, not innovate . It repeatedly used the same language on different models and form factors. It added colours and used the same conventions, without life or soul. The company became stale almost overnight.

Motorola doesn’t have a design culture. It has an engineering culture that tries to be a design culture. But the company fundamentally failed to see this. The product development folks seemed to say, “We’ll make a cool thing, and that will be great,” but they didn’t develop the ability to consistently repeat it. On the operating system side, Motorola has never been able to design a great mobile phone user interface .

The user experience suffers as a consequence. Design goes beyond simply the physical form factor. A big difference exists between a good design and a great product. Motorola didn’t take the next steps to make the Razr the essential portal to people’s mobile experience and hasn’t been able to create consistent design cues across all customer touch points. Motorola might not even know that it matters — but it does.

Design establishes the relationship between your company and your customers. So the complete design should incorporate what they see, interact with, and come in contact with. In short, all the things they experience about your company and use to form opinions and to develop desire for your products . These touch points should not be allowed to just happen. They must be designed and coordinated in a way that gets you where you want to be with your customer — to where you
matter to them.

While teaching an engineering class at Stanford University about the emotional side of design, we asked, “Who cares if Motorola goes out of business next week?” One person raised his hand. We then asked, “Who cares if Apple goes out of business next week?” Most of the class raised their hands.

If you are the CEO of Motorola, this is not good news because you were just told that you don’t matter very much. If you don’t think this is true, check your stock price.

The message here is this: Really grasp this idea of design — or you die. And, oh, yes — your products themselves have to be great.

(Robert Brunner is a renowned industrial designer & Stewart Emery is a corporate consultant. They are co-authors of “Do you matter? How great design will make people love your company” )

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Of culture and identity (my top 10 peeve of being a Malay/Muslim Singaporean)

Most friends who knows me, or those who have worked with or under me, knows that I am not a racist, and neither do I subscribe to generalizations, or I do always try to avoid them, in as far as I can, because I do believe that ascribing a certain character trait or identity with one's race, nationality or religion is a rather skewed way of looking at things. But then again, having the label of a Singaporean Malay in my identity card does have its 'privileges', of the sort that sometimes is unwarranted, and perhaps at times, uncalled for! And just to get them off my chest, here are some of my pet peeve:

1) That all Malays watch soccer!
Non-malay friend: Eh, irfan, you watch soccer right, did you watch the match last night?
ME: No I don't watch soccer, not that I hate it, but I just don't watch it.
Non-malay friend: You MEAN you don't watch soccer, I thought malay guys always watch soccer!
... and that sure will put a damper in our conversation, not that I care. ;)

2) That all Malay guys can play soccer!
Non-malay friend: Eh irfan, you want to join us for soccer this Thursday evening?
ME: No, I don't play soccer. I can't kick the ball for crying out loud. But I can run.
Non-malay friend: So if you don't play soccer, then what do you take for CCA in school
ME: Errrr, something that involves running, like athletics (well, I was the fastest runner in my primary school, and the 3rd fastest in high school!), and I played rugby too!

3) That all Malays can't do Math
Hmmm, I got the end of this generalization stick when I was applying for the post of a tutor at the West Coast Recreation Centre way back in 1993. Back then, there was a tuition agency that runs tuition programmes for students and they were in urgent need of tutors. As usual, I went there with my credentials, including those that clearly stated my distinctions in mathematics at both the O and A levels. Sadly when the interviewer, whom I suspect is the owner of the agency, saw my result slips, the first thing that came out from his mouth was, "Wow, I didn't know Malays can get distinction for maths". Well, I didn't know how to react, but I think I was surprisingly calm for someone who can get rather hot-headed when dealing with idiotic nincompoos like him. I don't know how I did it, but I managed to get the interview completed, and tell myself that that will be the last time that I will set foot into that tuition agency again

4) That Malays are lazy
Errr, I didn't know that any character is inherent in any race, nationality or religion, and until that study is published with impeccable empirical data, then I guess that argument holds no water at all.

5) That Malays are artistically inclined
Funnily, I am living proof to counter that, though I don't think that this will have any bearing at all, whether its true or not

6) That all Malays who teach are teaching Malay
I was also at the receiving end of this when I was first introduced to some of my new friends, whether be it fellow colleagues in the teaching service, which is sad don't you think, and those who are working in the private sector. The first thing that come to their mind, after telling them that I teach for a living, was...'You teaching Malay is it?'. I think one of this days, if I can and I think I will, I will counter by saying, ....'So does that mean that Indian teachers teaches Tamil and Chinese teachers teach Chinese too?' I would love to see their reaction to this! ;)

7) That Malays like to live on lower floors of HDB flats
Now let me clear this up. I don't think this is the case! What happens usually when the Housing and Development Board (HDB) sets up a few new blocks of housing units is to invite members from the majority population to book or reserve their choice of flats or units first, before opening the rest to the others. This is part of the HDB plans to ensure that each housing block, and to a larger picture, the constituency, is appropriately apportioned with the correct racial proportions. Well, I guess you can understand that those in the front of the queue will definitey select the higher units first, where possible, and where it doesn't contravene some of their superstitious beliefs, like choosing the 4th floor with the door number 444, or something to that effect.

8) That Hari Raya Puasa is the Malay New Year
No, Hari Raya Puasa, or Aidilfitri is NOT our new year, in fact it falls on the tenth month of the Muslim calendar! So please stop wishing happy new year to us...just wish us Hari Raya Puasa will be sufficient

9) That green is our colour
No, I don't think green in itself is a Muslim or Malay colour per se, it has just been adopted as one so as to be part of this societal need for each group to be identified with something, a form of branding or identity perhaps

10) That a Malay can't be more than just a Minister of Environment (or of a similar capacity)
Errr, well I think time will tell, and the way I see it, I am pretty optimistic that one day, we will have someone that can hold at least one of the more important portfolios. Who knows, it might be sooner than I think! :)

Saturday, November 22, 2008

This thing about following procedures

I had a quick and light dinner earlier today, as both me and my significant other were rushing to our cousin's wedding in the evening. We went to one of the Big-M fast food restaurants and the conversation occurs as follows:

Customer Service Girl (CSG): Hi there, welcome to M.....
Me: Yeah hi, can I have one set of the Chicken Nuggets meal...
CSG: Upshize!
Me: errr...and one set of the McWings meal...
Me: (feeling a little flustered now)...errr, no...no upsize for both, and can I change the drinks to Ice Lemon Tea for both
CSG: So the drinks for both change to Ice Lemon Tea, one Chicken Nuggets meal and one McWings meal, no upsize....having here?
Me: Yes, of course

I also remembered the other one that my significant other had when we ordered dinner at the famous chicken food outlet.

Significant Other (SO): Hi there, can I have two sets of the Spicy Chicken Tomyam meal, with the drinks change to Ice Lemon Tea and having here
CSG: Ok, your order is for 2 sets of Spicy Chicken TomYam meal, drinks change to Ice Tea...having here?
SO: Errr...yes
CSG: That will be $..... (can't remember the amount)
CSG: Will that be chilli and ketchup for ou ma'am?
SO: Err, will there be any difference, since you are passing to us the small containers and we will be the ones taking it? (for those not in the know, most outlets of the the local fast food chains are moving into self-service stations for customers to take their own straws, serviettes, chilli, ketchup, sugar, pepper, stirrer, etc)
CSG: Errrr...oh, ok (hands over two mini-plates to my SO, and then off to fulfill the order)

What I like to draw you attention to is not about the badness of having a standardised form of way in handling customers, but sometimes, just sometimes, it does pay to:
  • Listen to the customers' orders first
  • React accordingly
  • Review your standardised procedural greeting/handling in the light of your changing operational practices.
I guess, customer service in the local fast food outlets have still a long way to go! Sigh...

Saturday, November 15, 2008

The root of OUR social evil

It has been eye-opening to be part of the gender that is accused of being the root cause of all social and family problems amongst my community here in Singapore, but then again, objectively speaking, I very much agree with that statement. It is interesting to note that while the male members of the community has been accused of such, no one would want to do something or talk about it, either from the accused, or the guilty party! Or perhaps this is a social taboo that someone that is culturally-unaware, like myself, is not supposed to be talking, or in this case, be blogging about.

But seriously, for what it is worth, I seriously think that beyond just the mere accusations and assigning blame to anyone in particular, I do believe that more can be done in order to reverse our social situation. Not that I am a social scientist, or someone who is well-versed in the social affairs of the community, but I guess one probable cause of this could be the seemingly double standards that society, and perhaps parents in particular, have placed over the upbringing of their child. I have seen numerous cases, in families of both within and out of my families, and perhaps in fact, even in families of which I am just a peripheral stakeholder, in which the male younger members are seemingly measured by a different level or standard of upbringing compared to the females. And I am not talking about exacting standards here, just suffice to say that it is a level of which these male members would not be able to live up to when they grow up and become the captains of their own ships, once they are settled down.

On this front, how many times have we seen the young male members being given additional leeways and their lame excuses being given more weight, once they falter. Or the the wide berth that they enjoy in terms of their social lives, or the nonchalant attitude towards actually learning and knowing the inner workings of how to 'run' and lead a family! Surely for what it is worth, and beyond just knowing how to make babies, the male members must be accorded and graded based on a higher level of standards than the other gender! What more with the emphasis that our religion places on the Man of the house being accorded a higher social status, shouldn't the community then be having a higher social standards on the male members of the community and placing social pressures on the 'man of the houses' to better themselves to be good role models, and then, perhaps, just perhaps, things would be better.

But at times sadly, it is the parents of these very families that are facing these social problems who would have the higher propensity to be the ones who are 'producing' such male members. But then again, to be fair, I have seen my fair share of those from a normal regular families too. I guess it is very much about the kind of values and upbringing practices that the parents practices as the child grows up that matters more! And surprisingly, these seemingly preferential treatment towards the young male members of the family are more pervasive amongst the...surprise...mothers of the family! Seriously how many times have we seen these boys being given more leeway by the mothers than the fathers. Yah...perhaps the fathers are mostly not around due to the fact that they are out working, but it is really times like these, when the child is growing up, that perhaps, the mothers can really emphasise these qualities of leadership amongst their sons, and perhaps expect from them a higher level of 'sonship', compared to their female siblings! Make them do their beds, laundry, and their own coffee...(which reminds me about the fact that one of my friends actually still have his mum make for him his coffee even when he was already 23 years old!..hmm, so who is to blame here!?) Expect from them a higher level of performance in what ever that they do, well actually, more so in their academic outputs, since the society here in Singapore is very much academic-results driven during their teenage years! And to top it all off, enforce in them qualities and virtues that will make them good leaders, of both their families, and on a larger scale, the community. For what it is worth, it does require a Herculean social shift in some of the thinking about how parents raise their children in order to reverse the trend, but again, i must add, though this is not a blame game, lest we fail to do something now, it will STILL be a blame game generations from now...the guilty party will still stand at the guilty dock, and nothing better would ever come out of it if nothing is done!