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  • Let's Talk about Product Concept Innovation from an Easy-use Pot

    26 November 2016
    S.Point, Member Firm (China)

    According to S.POINT, design is not equal to ideation. Design is about invention based on in-depth insights of the end users.

    Back to the Design X Strategy Theory of S.POINT

    A true innovation (be it about physical/digital products/services) is not possible by any single solution. In its narrow sense, design used to be limited to the third question, i.e., the format, appearance, and color. In this case, design has been equal to aesthetics. Well, aesthetics has its own sense of logic, and designers have lots of troubles with various tastes. However, energy consumed by aesthetics doesn’t really help a lot with impact on the end users. We believe we must look at the second question: What’s the user demand? We have to know how to satisfy user demand. This is about product concept, which in turn marks the difference between product manager and designer.

    Let’s further explain about product concept innovation by a case study with an electric pressure cooker.

    When a customer demands innovation with a product that is already standardized technologically and aesthetically, what shall we do?

    All brand name electric pressure cooker are roughly the same in terms of functionality and appearance. The electric pressure cooker market is saturated with similar products.

    In other words, in a red sea where disruptive change is limited, how shall we make the breakthrough? In such conditions, product concept innovation is critical. We faced up to the problem and resolved it through innovative methodology.

    Our customer is a leading home appliance brand name, who expected to launch a new electric pressure cooker, not yet seen in the market, targeting young people (born no earlier than the 1980s).

    Obviously, the customer had an urgent need for innovation. Traditionally, when it came to appealing young consumers, people focused on appearances or easy operation. People tended to think young people would be tech-savvy and liked cool operations. Some thought young consumers would expect 100% professional culinary experience. However, such design ideas were not embraced by the market. How shall we move forward?

    When we approached the case, the first thing we did was to help the customer redefine the question. What we expected was not only a product that was aesthetically appealing to the young people, but it also provided cooking functions. We discovered the exact demand before we offered new product concept. Who shall define the demand? The only answer was: the consumer. Therefore, we conducted in-depth consumer interview by calling on them. We tried to understand young people, about how they’d prefer food, cooking, and lifestyle.

    Consumer insights

    Our team traveled across five cities. They interviewed ten users and a fine dining expert. They went to the homes as part of the immersive experience. They made a lot of interesting discoveries. The following is the insights they have obtained:

    1 “I have to do the impossible.”

    “I cook for my husband. He is from Shaanxi, and likes wheat instead of rice.”

    “Usually I don’t cook dinner. I end the work late. Most of the time I eat outside. When I cook, I cook things that are easy to do. I’d make soup. In the night I put all the ingredients in the cooker and I push the button. Next day, it’s ready to eat.”

    “During working days, I go out early and come back at dusk. Actually I’ve got no fixed days off. I’m very busy. Usually my mother-in-law cooks.”

    “I cook, but only when I have lots of free time. Over the weekend, I may prepare a dish with potatoes and beef stew.”

    The family planning policy was introduced in China in the 1980s. Now most young people in China are the only child to their parents. We find most of young people don’t cook before marriage. They know little about cooking. After married, they have to start cooking.

    Most of the young people live in the cities with a very quick tempo of life. Coming back home after work at 7pm or 8pm, they don’t have time to cook. Of course they have even less time to learn how to cook. For many young people, to cook is to do the impossible. Therefore, many young people don’t cook at home. However, it’s also impossible that they eat only outside. Therefore, they’ll buy cooking appliance at home.

    Well, what kind of electric pressure cooker may best help young people?

    2 “Dummy-style instructions”

    “To eat crabs, my sister bought me an electric crab steamer. Last time I went to a colleague’s home, and the rice was terrific. Therefore, I bought myself a CUCKOO electric rice steamer.”

    “We bought a bread maker, just to make bread.”

    We find many young people prefer a cooker that provides dummy-style instructions. They don’t want complex steps from 1 through 7, even if they seem high tech. They want the job done by a single press of a button. If they want the crab steamed, they hope they can do it by just putting the crab into the steamer, pressing the button, and then having the steamed crab ready. They demand a convenient and trouble-free solution.

    Surprisingly, most interviewees say they would sacrifice kitchen space for such convenience. They believe a cooker is OK so long as it can complete specific tasks. For example, they’d like to have very specific appliance for a specific task, one for steamed crabs, one for steamed fish, etc. They’d accept ten specific devices to be put inside the kitchen space. Some makers used to think young people would be totally tech-driven, therefore they’d be glad to offer all-in-one products with 1-2-3-4-5-6-7 step instructions. It seemed maneuvering such high tech products would give young people a sense of achievement. However, young people wouldn’t waste time on figuring out how to use an electric device.

    3 "Adventurers ready to taste the new”

    “For me, to cook is just for me.”

    “I like making sushi. I like the process. Young people like to try new things.”

    Another fun discovery was that, even though they didn’t like the trouble of cooking, they would like to have a fun experience when they did cook for themselves.

    What would be a fun cooking experience? To cook something different! Well, a complex issue worth some analysis. Some would assume that it might be enough that the device can be used to cook one or two dishes so that those non-cooks can have a full meal. However, the truth is that young people demand a fun experience about cooking. They want to have all their whimsical ideas come true. Today I want to have fish, and tomorrow I’m going to have crabs, and the day after tomorrow I’d like fried potatoes. They’d be bored if they can only have one dish. The young people are adventurers ready to taste the new. Even though they are not top cooks, they’d venture into different dishes. To be able to help with their culinary adventure offers a great design opportunity.

    4 “Good aesthetics”

    “We’d have a potluck where everyone makes a dish. When people say my food is great, I feel happy and proud.”

    “I’d share my dishes using Moments of WeChat. I’d like this sharing experience. I also learn to make new dishes through other people’s sharing online.”

    Finally, we had another fun insight. We find most of the time the young people cooked not only for eating, but also to show off their skills. Therefore, the pursuit for good aesthetics is as important as that for good taste. Before digging in, they’d have to take a picture and share the cooking experience through social media. The young people would proudly declare: I made this terrific dish! In today’s social media world, young people would very much like to show off. Therefore, aesthetics is just as important as taste for a successful electric pressure cooker. Sometimes aesthetics of the food is even more important than taste. A successful product must give its owner the appearance of a top chef.

    Based on the above user insights, we offered several recommendations. One recommendation was about turning a rookie into a top chef. The young person is a rookie chef, without skills and no time to learn. However, the rookie wants to be a top chef immediately, at least in the eyes of others. Therefore, the electric pressure cooker concept would be: turning the rookie into a top chef, at least in the eyes of others.

    Building on such design opportunity, through multiple joint workshops, we offered the product concept of Top Chef Cooker for a Rookie. The product would have a simplified structure and working methods, boasting intuitive operation. The message would be clear: you cook great food with the cooker, and show off your talents as a top chef, all so easily!

    Based on consumer insights, we offer enhanced interpretation. We think beyond what kind of cooker they need. We rebuild live scenarios to come to the roots of true consumer thoughts. We look three ways: look in – what I need; look around – scenario of the arising need, and look out – conditions that make the scenario. Thus, we understand the true nature of the cooking need, which in turn represents the true consumer insights about consumer need.

    Building on the product concept of Top Chef Cooker for a Rookie, the following design work became straightforward. Now appearance, color, operation and UI would come easily. Everything would start from the philosophy of turning the rookie into a top chef. Design controversies were minimized. The design was being finalized by the customer; therefore we cannot release more details.

    Product concept innovation is the leading force of product design. User insights play a critical part. We as designers and innovators must provider consumers what the truly need. Assumptions and stereotypes without concrete basis only compromise effective insights.

    To know the consumers, and start from consumer needs, this is the source of innovation. In sum, we present the four-step product concept process, which also represents our innovation methodology: observation (engaging the user and know the need), insights (developing design opportunity), innovation (through joint workshops), and design (developing product concept).

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