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.
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?
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?
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?
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.