Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Design and the “Extreme User”

I’m curious about how the world would be different if women held half of the positions in leadership, design, product management, politics, etc. Let’s imagine that this had been the case for the past 50 years or take any number of years over 25, ie, a generation. It’s a thought experiment and I think it’s one that would lead to incredible revelations on how the world is designed, at times, by default, mostly because women weren’t there. If one were to unpeel these layers, I think one would find a bonanza of unexpected and potentially huge business opportunities.

On some level, the conversation I want to have is not even about gender. It’s about conceiving and designing systems, products and services for the more extreme user and thereby pleasing everyone. A great example is the OXO brand of kitchenware which was designed for consumers with arthritic hands. It turns out that everybody likes easy to use can-openers and the brand expanded far beyond its original intended niche user. This was such an epiphany that I wondered what if everything were made for the extreme user, whoever that might be in each case?

Decision-making theory suggests that women are often the extreme user, because they have more criteria for a product or service than men. In a classic example used by Marti Barletta in her book “Marketing to Women”, men considered 2 or 3 factors when selecting a cell phone. Women may share the same 2-3 top criteria, but during their “helical” decision-making process, they might add 4 more criteria and additionally want to have the object in the color blue.

Any other examples come to mind?