Andrew Harder

Experience Strategy and Design Research

April 30, 2014

the tata nano, ncap and progress

When I give talks, I often use the Tata Nano as a classic example of a low-end disruptive technology that could only come from emerging markets. It’s incredibly cheap, it targets a new consumer market instead of existing users and it reeks of compromise. The point I make it simple – the list of what it lacks is long: no airbags, only one wing mirror, no power steering, a whopping two-cylinder engine and so on.

Tata Nano

 

But if you were to look at it, you wouldn’t think it lacked for anything. It comes ranged in a hero colour of bright yellow, it has vents that probably don’t do anything but wouldn’t look out of place on a Ferrari, which isn’t surprising given it was apparently designed by an Italian car studio. Their latest TV ad, which I linked to on this blog a while ago, doesn’t even mention that it is cheap – instead it invites you to Celebrate Awesomeness.

Well, this aspirational positioning does have its limits. The Nano attracted complaints of unreliability and fire in its early days, it isn’t selling well, and the reported ambitions for a European and US launch haven’t arrived. Most recently, the Nano was tested against the global standard NCAP test and attracted a worst-possible zero star rating.

Naturally, Tata should suck up the cost and deliver the recommended structural improvements and air bags. Safety is not only top of consumers’ minds when they look at a car, but I also believe its a fundamental responsibility that we have as professionals to keep our users whole interests at heart. Flashy and sexy can’t come before safe.

Having said that, I wonder if calling the Nano an Unsafe Car achieves anything. I bet NCAP doesn’t rate the safety of two-wheelers like these ones in Bangalore.

21-blore-traffic-IndiaInk-blog480

And if they did, I think the Nano or any car would be much safer for the passengers. Accepting that Tata and all car makers shouldn’t put dangerous machines on the road, I can’t help but wonder if saying the Nano is unsafe is making the perfect the enemy of the good. Or at least, the good the enemy of the a small progress.

March 25, 2014

What We Buy When We Buy Design Research – blog post on Ethnography Matters

Like most good ideas to come out of England, the inspiration for our workshop at EPIC 2013 came from conversations in the pub. In this case, we were talking about “the great divide” between client and agency research teams.

Within a few years of each other, we had both left user experience agencies to work as design research managers inside big companies. Despite having worked in-house previously, this marked a transition in both our careers.

In agencies we  both sold design research to large companies. We faced similar challenges; fighting for more budget and time in the field to do more insightful work and wanting earlier involvement with designers so we could shape their work without compromise.

When we moved in-house, we faced new territory. Suddenly we had all the time we wanted, years of it. We had a research budget, sometimes a lot of it. We could work with designers from the minute they got their brief or in some cases, we were working to shape the design brief.

Yet we were also faced with some hard truths that we hadn’t anticipated. In our experience working for big consumer product companies means you are a small cog in a large machine, with objectives and dependencies that spread far beyond a specific research project. Couple that with a complex web of product owners and stakeholders and a design team to keep engaged, and you start to see why design research projects often come unstuck.

Often after spending budget on ethnographic research, design teams are still struggling later on, wanting insights that the research did not provide. And sometimes, no matter how clearly the external research agencies were briefed on project objectives, the deliverables unwittingly undermined the project vision, approach or relationships.

 

Read the full post on Ethnography Matters

March 16, 2014

Video of Electronics District in Shenzhen

I spent a great week in Hong Kong recently. I went to the fantastic UX Hong Kong conference, met some great local designers and spent a day over the border in Shenzhen. I have a lot of notes from the trip that I will write up soon, but I wanted to start by sharing some video I took in Shenzhen.

One difference that always effects me in China is the feeling on the street. The noise, the crowds and the skies all defeat my powers of pithy description. So here we go, two videos I took of the street around Huaqiang Bei, a major electronics district in Shenzhen.

November 26, 2013

Podcast with uxpod on ux, disruption and cultural errors

A few weeks ago I had a great chat with Gerry Gaffney, of UXPod fame. We talked about why emerging markets are interesting and how they provide great environments for new disruptive technology. We also spoke about my concept of “Cultural Errors”, which describe the common mistakes that western designers make when they start working in emerging markets.

The podcast is now live on the UXPod website.

The video? It’s an ad for the Tata Nano, at the time of launch the world’s cheapest car. Watch it and think: what user needs do Tata think are important?

September 11, 2013

The c is for colour, not cheap

The biggest surprise of yesterday’s iPhone 5c announcement is that it isn’t really cheaper. In many emerging markets, consumers buy phones unsubsidised. In these market, the iPhone 5c will be about USD$549 and the 5s will be about USD$649. The iPhone 4s stays on the market as the cheapest iPhone at USD$450.

Meanwhile, cheap Androids from Samsung cost from less than USD$100 in India for example.

This pricing shows that, as usual, Apple have stayed closer to their DNA than pundits predict. The iPhone 5c is another high-margin product that shows no significant compromise in hardware spec or software experience. Apple have restricted a few hardware-led features to the 5s like fingerprint scanning and some camera technology, but the software experience will not be significantly differentiated within the iPhone range.

Rather cheekily, let me point out that this case shows good support for my dilemma of luxury technology. Facing the gulf between hardware price and software value, Apple kept prices high and didn’t chase the global mass market. The value in mass market smartphones is still being captured by Android.

September 10, 2013

The iPhone 5c and the luxury technology trap: hardware sets price but software creates value

In Delhi two years ago, I met a fantastically erudite guy. He was studying for an MBA, but there are so many MBAs in India that it isn’t the same marker of high education as it is in the West. A friend of mine living in Bangalore hired an MBA as a personal assistant and then found her literacy was very low. Anyway, this guy was very entertaining and quotable and taught me a lot about Indian attitudes towards technology. One thing he said stayed with me

IF YOUR FRIEND HAS AN IPHONE, YOU KNOW THEY HAVE A GOOD PHONE. THE PROBLEM WITH A NOKIA IS THAT YOU DON’T KNOW IF IT’S A GOOD PHONE OR NOT.

Well, maybe not anymore. Apple is widely expected to release a cheaper iPhone today, undermining this rock-solid brand-is-quality perception. The New York Times has a nice piece on the risks of a luxury brand moving mass-market.

FOR APPLE, THE DEVIL WILL BE IN THE DETAILS: JUST HOW MUCH LOWER THE PRICE OF THE CHEAPER IPHONE IS, AND JUST HOW MUCH CHEAPER IT LOOKS AND FEELS. IF THE IPHONE IS DEEMED CHEAP, IT COULD GET INTO THE HANDS OF SO MANY PEOPLE WORLDWIDE THAT IT LOSES POWER AS A STATUS SYMBOL AND TURNS APPLE INTO A MAKER OF COMMODITY PRODUCTS LIKE DELL, HEWLETT-PACKARD OR ASUS.

 

and appearing later

FIVE YEARS AGO, MR. JOBS DESCRIBED THE COMPANY’S STRATEGY TO INVESTORS WHO WERE ASKING HIM ABOUT WHETHER APPLE WOULD SHIP A NETBOOK: MINIATURE NOTEBOOKS THAT COULD BE BOUGHT FOR AS LITTLE AS $200. HIS ANSWER WAS, IN SHORT, NO. “THERE ARE SOME CUSTOMERS WHICH WE CHOSE NOT TO SERVE,” MR. JOBS SAID.

So now, years after that strategy was made public, Apple are choosing to serve middle-class emerging market consumers.

A challenge in ranging smartphones is that there is a gap between price and value. The price is largely set by the hardware choices, and so the most effective way to reduce price is to use cheaper and fewer components. But value to consumers is largely delivered by software features rather than hardware choices. Product managers can spend years of person hours arguing about whether to use a 3MP or 5MP camera to save a few dollars on build cost, while users spend all their time on Instagram and Facebook.

Of course there are subtle and important interplays between hardware enablers and software delighters, but pick up even the cheapest Android phone and you get a touch-screen, an app store and a browser. Cheap Androids are slow and they crash, but they are still smartphones.

This value-price gap presents the clearest danger to Apple from ranging a cheaper handset. If the iPhone 5C runs iOS, then how much value can be preserved for the premium model? Crippling the software makes little sense given that Android doesn’t do this and is already firmly established in emerging markets.In my view, restricting the release of new hardware features like fingerprint scanning, faster Bluetooth or NFC won’t be sufficient to create a differentiated experience. Samsung uses screen size as the most visible differentiator in their portfolio, but this would be very new ground for Apple. Looking at their existing product range the most effective differentiators would be slower data connection speeds and a non-Retina display (which has the added benefit of being clearly demonstrable at point of sale, reinforcing the link between value and price).

Of course even post-Jobs, Apple retains some power to surprise punditry like this post. And as the most successful technology brand we all have a lot to learn from their work. Apple consistently get consumers to part with hundreds of dollars more than their competitors do, earning them margins the rest of the industry only dreams about. How they manage this new product launch will be very illuminating.

September 7, 2013

Important lessons from an unlikely source

 

I have always found it true that the more real talent a person has, the more secure he is in that talent and the less likely he is to be a jerk.

most of the tantrums people throw don’t really come from anger with others as much as from an insecurity within themselves. Some of the nicest, genuinely warm people I have dealt with have been those with the greatest talent and success.

And some of the biggest jerks have been people on the perimeter of success who have bluffed their way to where they are.

The source of the wisdom? Dolly Parton in her autobiography My Life and Other Unfinished Business. As she herself might say, the world has many lessons if you don’t mind listening to a hillbilly now and again.

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