There is only one boss…it’s Doug!

Blog 9.  5 May 2020

How cool is it to read about all the lockdown inspired innovations. The brewery turned hand sanitiser business, the 3D printed face masks, the guy who recognised travellers self-isolation problem and quickly offered his own AirBnB self-contained rental unit as a self-isolation spot, then set up a Facebook group so others could offer their properties as well. And I’m sure there are many more to come. I know our local Mitre10 can use some solutions on how to better serve their customers right now!

And that’s where innovation starts… seeing a problem, knowing there is more than one person with that problem, and coming up with a solution that helps solve it in a simple, elegant way.

And as simple as that sounds, it turns out it is harder to put into practice. Nielsen statistics states

More than 85% of new consumer products fail in the market.

I believe that is because most products are designed from behind a desk. You know, when you think you know the market, you may have worked in the market for several years, and there’s pressure to deliver quick, so you jump straight into the kitchen/shed with the first recipe/design you have in mind. Refine it, test it around the office, launch it and… take it off the market 5 months later because it failed miserably. What a waste of energy and effort. If only you could have all that time and energy back and put it into a successful project.

It will be one massive loopback to redesign it. (Learn more about loopbacks in my earlier post here.)

It’s a trap. And a common one to fall into.

Being with product developers is super. I love it. It’s my tribe. And, watching from the side-line I have an advantage. It makes me realise where we (as designers) are being too focused on the design side – on the technical challenges (so cool to solve!) and on making it pretty and perfect (worthy & cool and something to be proud of) – which stops us (at least initially) from seeing the bigger picture…

There is only one boss. The customer. And he can fire everybody in the company from the chairman on down, simply by spending his money somewhere else. – Sam Walton, Walmart

Without knowing who we are designing for we are going to make a lot of guesses and assumptions.It is a bit like this situation: imagine you would need to buy me a birthday present right now. What are you going to get me? You hardly know me, so you are probably going to get me something generic, a voucher? And since you don’t even know what I’m into, you’ll probably just get me a generic voucher, a Pressie card maybe. Thank you, sweet of you, but not overly exciting.

However, if you’d know me a little bit better, you’d know that I’m really into running and you’d get me a voucher to my favourite local running shoe store (as I like to support my local guy). Wow, thank you! To receive that voucher is amazing. So thoughtful of you. How did you know? You clearly get me!

And that is the difference, between something that’s ok and something that’s amazing. It’s a few questions away.

Don’t fall into the rush trap. Stop and ask a few questions. It will save you lots of time, energy and money.

Make the most of this lockdown situation and improve your NPD projects. I suggest you start with making sure each of your projects has some good consumer (the person eating/using the product, not the retailer!) insights behind it.

It starts with having a chat with your market. Understand what the world looks like from their point of view. There’s a great book about how you can get your whole organisation to do that. Find it below.

You want to understand your target so well that they feel like a friend. Give them a name. Let’s call them Doug for now. And everyone working on the project should be able to describe Doug, how he lives, how he makes his choices, etc. It means that when you are wondering what colour to use, you automatically think ‘Which colour would Doug pick?’.

The funny thing is, it’s counter intuitive. To go quicker, go slower first.

The better you understand the end-customer, the easier it is to design.

Don’t jump straight into design. Go talk with the customers first. Spend some decent time with them. (The Toyoata lead engineer spent 6 months hanging out with American families to design their SUV).

don’t ask me which packaging concept I like best, ask Doug!

Want to learn how to gain those insights, what questions to ask your customers? Engage a good researcher and go along on the journey with them. Make sure you (and your colleagues) get to meet several of your potential consumers, so you can picture them when you’re designing a solution for them.

To understand what is involved in the research, I highly recommend reading the book Userpalooza. It’s a great guidebook on how to do consumer research. Find the below.

Your next step: go check your top 3 projects – do they have good insights behind them? Can you describe your ‘Doug’?

Let’s design better!

Onwards & upwards,

Ps. How cool is it to read this: the New Zealand designed noho move chair I mentioned in blog 1 has been selected as one of @FastCompany’s 2020 World Changing Ideas! Go Richard & Formway design team!

Gaining better customer insights – company culture:

 “Wired to Care” by Dev Patnaik. This book is full of great easy-to-implement examples of how to get any organization more end-user focused. It’s written in business novel style, making it a really easy & quick read. This book is available as a hardcopy, Kindle & Audio book from:



How to gain better user insights – guide book:
“Userpalooza” by Nick Bowmast is a great guide book on how to do customer research yourself. I love the quote that it starts with: “….because it’s easier to design for a customer you understand.” I agree 100%.
With a reader-friendly page lay-out and full of enticing illustrations, this book is a feast for the eyes.Written by kiwi researcher Nick Bowmast, it is super practical and comes complete with checklists and suggested actions for every step of the process of doing customer research. A great ‘how-to’ guide and handbook. And if you’re thinking of hiring a customer insights researcher, this book will tell you what skills you’d want to look for. Buy the book here:

Missed my e-book? Find it here!

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