Christmas Gifts and the Meaning of Design

Ben Thompson on Stratechery:

This is the way the vast majority of businesses, both within tech and without, operate when it comes to new products. And it’s successful! Customers ask for X, the company makes it, and the customer buys it – if it comes in at the right price, of course. Because that’s the downside of developing based on characteristics and features that can be articulated by your customers: they can articulate those same characteristics and features to your competitors, and let you duke it out with all of them until the marginal profit of your product approaches zero.

Approaching a problem with a design thinking mindset, however, certainly takes into account what a customer says, but simply as one input among many. In this approach, observing the way people really live, developing a deep understanding of the real problems they have, and gaining an appreciation of the “hacks” they devise to overcome them can deliver an understanding of prospective customers’ needs that is more accurate than what any of those prospective customers could ever articulate on their own.

And then, from that understanding, an entirely new, highly differentiated product can be delivered that surprises and delights.2 From a business perspective, the emotion and attachment said product inspires breaks down price sensitivity and builds brand attachment, and inspires the sort of viral marketing that can’t be bought.

The piece starts with thoughts on gifting and goes on to a product design analogy. Brilliant.