The term “disruption” has been used so many times that it has lost its meaning. It’s become a lazy term for something that’s trying to be passed off as a colossal shift, a cataclysmic event. But all too often it’s just...vanilla.

Disruption used to mean a true shift in the market that blew minds and emptied wallets. It was shorthand for creating a completely new product or service the market couldn’t have imagined but couldn’t live without once they discovered it.

But that doesn’t happen anymore. What’s being called “disruption” is really a dressed-up version of imitation. It’s an iteration, not an innovation. The seismic shift would-be disruptors are looking for comes from a user-centered approach to product development that ends with true originality: true uniqueness, true innovation that makes a deep dent in the marketplace and resonates with its users.

Consider Google Glass: when it was introduced in 2009, it looked to be truly disruptive. It was a new approach to content delivery, it was a new idea and it came from Google. Only the best engineers could get a pair (along with the SDK) and they wore them with honor in the streets of San Francisco. What’s not to like?

Its look, for one. Few consumers wanted to shell out $1,500 for a pair of glasses that made them look like a cheap comic book villain. Developers weren’t wild about them, so they quickly stopped creating apps for Google Glass. People felt creeped out by someone wearing Google Glasses. Instead of looking “cool”, Google Glass owners felt ostracized. But most importantly, Google Glasses are a classic example of a product without a purpose. It didn’t add any real value to the user’s daily life; if anything, it detracted from it.
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What’s being called “disruption” is really a dressed-up version of imitation.
When done right, thoughtful design takes the user into account from the very moment the project is conceived, resulting in a “stickiness” for the user. When done wrong, it results in a product that falls far short of what it could have been and is met with a sigh in the marketplace.
Cogniance design team
Getting to that point – achieving that stickiness – begins with questions. What problem is the product trying to solve? How will it make the user’s life or work easier? How will users interact with this product? Will they need training in order to use it? Perhaps most importantly, what are their expectations and how can you exceed them?

Look through the eyes of the user

The user-informed design approach isn’t new. But it’s certainly catching fire across a number of industries as businesses (not all of whom are startups, it should be noted) are bringing users into the earliest stages of product development and using their input to inform product design.

Disruption may be a waning model for innovation, but there’s a pot of proverbial gold on your product roadmap that’s been there the whole time: users. Google quietly pulled the plug on Glass, but photos on the FCC’s website show a 2.0 version under possible development. Has Google started with the user this time?

How the user perspective turned AIRBNB around

In 2009, Airbnb was on its last legs. Revenue was stuck at a paltry $200 per week. One afternoon, they made a discovery while reviewing their site with a colleague: the photos of their properties were horrible. People were using their cell phones to post images of varying (often lousy) quality. Airbnb was losing potential customers because they couldn’t see what they were booking.

They quickly dispatched a three-man team to New York to take HD photos of their rental properties for the site. It worked. A shift in perspective – looking at their site through the eyes of their visitors and noticing the glaring issue – proved to be the turning point for the company. They didn’t have a marketing issue. They didn’t have a coding issue. They had a design issue.

They had a truly disruptive product. Airbnb was a site that allowed tourists to bunk with locals who could offer them a much richer and unique experience, but its execution was off. Taking a step back and viewing their offering from a new perspective – that of the user – led to the “aha” moment that shattered their business model and put them on the path to success. But how much faster could they have grown if they had considered the user experience at the beginning? How much bigger would they be today?

“What is?” should lead to “What if?”

The first part of the product development process is defining the product, its market and its users.The second, equally important step is asking “what if?” That is the question that will lead you down the path towards a product that sings.
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You might think you know your product, but you don’t. Your user does. Pay attention.
Lead or follow?
If you aren’t already considering users at the earliest stages of product development, there’s no time like the present. Companies big and small can no longer dismiss the importance of user-focused design and engineering and expect to succeed, or even remain relevant, in their marketplace. User expectations have changed and markets are evolving at a rapid rate. You can lead or you can follow: which do you choose?

Not sure where to begin? Talk to a designer. Ask him or her to take a look at your product and see how it’s being used. That’s where you’ll unlock the insights that will result in a product that resonates with your users. You’ll undoubtedly discover some opportunities that you missed the first time, but others will likely emerge as well, and they might be better than you could have ever imagined.

It’s time to get started. Bring your designers into the process early: ask questions, conduct focus groups, run user tests.

The Microsoft Band was, in the words of Business Insider, “a very un-Microsoft move to quickly, quietly release a new product” in 2014. Part smartwatch, part fitness tracker, and not much of either, it was met with a collective sigh in the marketplace. CNET also gave it a harsh review, stating that it had mediocre battery life, wasn’t swim-friendly and its Bluetooth syncing could be buggy, among other complaints. What problem was the Microsoft Band solving for its users? The thoroughly unremarkable, unmemorable Band didn’t expand the wearable category in any way, shape or form. A design-led approach could have uncovered these glaring issues.
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