August 12, 2004

Seeing Through the Mists of Marketing

In today's Chronicle, an article on Humboldt Fog cheese begins with this passage:

Few American artisan cheeses created in recent years have penetrated the national market like Humboldt Fog. Whether because of its striking appearance or superior flavor, consumers have embraced this unusual goat cheese with ash in the middle.
In supermarkets that make no pretense of offering a quality cheese selection, there's Humboldt Fog. On the menus of small-town restaurants aiming for a little sophistication, there's Humboldt Fog. Cheesemaker Mary Keehn says she felt she had really arrived when an acquaintance told her about seeing the cheese in Europe.

The secret to Humboldt Fog's above-average success is not that secret: it's marketing, pure and simple. Doubtless, there are countless cheeses on the market that offer a similarly superior flavor, quite possibly for less money.

But Humboldt Fog has the gimmick: a layer of ash through the middle and ash in the rind. Now, ash isn't enough -- there are other ash cheeses. So thus, the name, "Humboldt Fog," which evokes the mysterious romance of California's northern coast. So the name provides the hook, the necessary fillip that takes this cheese from being one of many tasty artisan cheeses (that all tend to blur together to any but the most ardent connoisseur) to one that stands out.

It's classic branding really.

I bring it up because I find, at least in the user experience community, an unfortunate baby-with-the-bathwater mentality when it comes to marketing... Because so much marketing *is* bad, and so many marketers *are* clueless, there's a tendency to dismiss marketing altogether. But Humboldt Fog points out the brilliance of good marketing, the elevation of a truly quality product to a distinct, must-have item.

Posted by peterme at 07:54 AM | Comments (5)

August 10, 2004

Design is Easy; Organizational Politics is Hard

[This is a draft (and an early one at that) of an essay I'm working on for the Adaptive Path site. Wanted to get some thoughts out there while still raw.]

At the DIS2004 Conference, I attended a panel on how innovation seems to be on the wane, with the potential culprit being user-centered design methods that stress safety over risk, surety over adventure, meeting existing customer expectations instead of exceeding them.

This argument struck me as a red herring. In my experience, the problem is not with design or design processes. In fact, design practitioners have figured out a lot about what works, and what doesn’t. For those in the design field, design is easy – developing solutions to problems is a pretty straightforward endeavor. The problem isn’t with design or designers – it’s with organizations whose fundamental structures prevent the good ideas from getting out.

A panelist harkened back to a more golden era of design, a mid-20th-century period where massive organizations took design risks, where GM would develop visions of a Futurama, where IBM worked with The Eames’ and Paul Rand. The thing is, these companies could do so because they were extremely centralized, and the wishes of those at the top became the marching orders of all beneath. Design-minded CEOs could make such innovation happen.

In the 70s, 80s, and 90s, corporations fundamentally changed. They became extremely siloed. Product teams were no longer collaborative individuals, but a stovepiped set of departments whose efforts were stitched together by a product manager. And each of those departments has their own metrics of success, their own P&L statements -- in other words, their own asses to cover. product managers are rewarded for on-time and under-budget delivery; marketing with exceeding sales goals; engineering with minimizing defects and other marks of "quality". Nowhere does design and innovation factor in.

As the products became more complex, the lack of cohesion became more apparent – it’s common for an electronic consumer product to have the hardware engineering performed by one group, the onboard software made by another group, the manufacturing somewhere else, the marketing yet elsewhere, all leading to incoherent messes that blink “12:00.”

This departmental mess has been witnessed in the field of web design, in research conducted by User Interface Engineering, where they found that the only correlation they could make between the size of an organization’s UCD/usability practice was mildly inverse to the usability of the site – companies that seemed to invest more in usability actually had marginally worse products.

A big reason for this oxymoron is that the more that’s invested in UCD, the more likely it is to become a separate group or department. With it's own measure of success (minimize user interface defects) that are not aligned with those of the other departments. And this group tends to get relegated to the role of “interface cops,” folks who must review everything before it goes out, and thus serve as a bottleneck in development processes, a point of pain to route around.

The panel I attended was called "Beyond Human-Centered Design", suggesting that maybe we need to explore other design approaches to achieve innovation. Currently innovation doesn't happen because every department in product development has competing metrics for success, and any of them can veto a product decision if it doesn't satisfy their limited world view. I would argue that the imperative is to move Toward Human-Centered Organizations, where companies are structured to support good, usable, innovative design, where metrics are aligned across organizations to achieve a common goal.

What we’ve seen is that the best work, the best products, are created by small, multidisciplinary teams. Where there is no such thing as departmental hand-offs and review. Instead, you’ve got marketers, designers, engineers, user advocates working closely together on a single project. Where success is measured for the group as a whole, so that everyone is striving for the same goal.

Posted by peterme at 07:46 AM | Comments (10)

August 09, 2004

New RSS Feed - Now, With Delicious!

Hey all... I'm now using Feedburner to process my RSS Feed, and I'm using the splicer to post what I've bookmarked. So if you want the full peterme experience, point your aggregators here.

Posted by peterme at 08:17 AM | Comments (2)


See Me Travel
December 2006
November 2006
October 2006
September 2006
August 2006
July 2006
June 2006
May 2006
April 2006
March 2006
February 2006
January 2006
December 2005
November 2005
October 2005
September 2005
August 2005
July 2005
June 2005
May 2005
April 2005
March 2005
February 2005
January 2005
December 2004
November 2004
October 2004
September 2004
August 2004
July 2004
June 2004
May 2004
April 2004
March 2004
February 2004
January 2004
December 2003
November 2003
October 2003
September 2003
August 2003
July 2003
June 2003
May 2003
April 2003
March 2003
Archives from June 13, 2001 to January 2003
Archives from before June 13, 2001
Recent Entries
Seeing Through the Mists of Marketing
Design is Easy; Organizational Politics is Hard
New RSS Feed - Now, With Delicious!
Subscribe to my feed:
Powered by
Movable Type 3.2