Designing for Your Customer First – Then Technology

New technologies can be the shining star and get us excited when we are designing new products and services. But should you be thinking technology before you know what your customer wants? In our hangout, “How to Design with New Technologies in Mind,” our panelists stressed how important it is to clarify the problem to be solved and your customer needs, before you get excited by new technologies.

Our hangout panel included design and innovation experts from:

SCHNEIDER ELECTRIC – Carlos Javaroni, IoT Strategy & Business Design Director

JET.COM – Ben Running, Director of Jet Innovation Lab

ACCENTURE – Michael English, Management Consulting Leader

Our panelist talked about how designers leverage new technologies when designing the innovative products and services of the future, but only after they have a true understanding of their customer and their needs.

Success Stories: What New Technologies are Bringing to Today’s World

Our discussions started off with some success stories. Panelists chatted about which companies and industries have successfully implemented new technologies in their spaces.

Michael English from Accenture discussed how transportation systems like railways are implementing augmented reality (AR) into their management systems, through the use of existing technologies. For railway employees looking to manage issues on tracks, clunky AR glasses simply do not work. The large devices do not work over hardhats or in the rain, so the technology is simply not compatible with the work conditions. In observing these issues, Michael English’s team was able to implement a program that utilized iPhone devices to help solve these important problems.

The learning from this?  As panelist Ben Running said,  “The best device is the one you already have with you.” New technologies are incredibly attractive, but they must fit into the daily lives of the individuals who use them.

Ben further elaborated on the use of new technologies saying that,

“…when designing for new technologies you do need to understand the landscape and where technology is going but most importantly understand what part of the technology the customers will use, what they own now, what they’re interested in owning and using so you can know what is realistic to think you can ‘nudge’ the customer towards. In the end, you still need to be solving for a customer’s need to get them to use the technology though…Knowing your customer’s journey and the highs and lows will help you address the lows so more value is perceived by the customer.”

An example of this that Michael shared was when rail conductors (or engineers) inspect and record incidents like if a signal is broken. The engineers had recorded these incidents manually then sent them to the main office to input. The railway company tried to be more efficient by having locomotive engineers enter their incidents directly by using iPads. Ironically, the incident rates dropped significantly when they introduced iPads because the engineers were not well trained on using iPads and decided to forego reporting many incidents as it took too long. So, the next move the railway company took was to introduce chatbots so the engineers could then press a button and verbally report the incident. This worked because the technology took into consideration what the engineers were comfortable using.

Next, Ben talked about what Wayfair is doing with augmented reality to help boost sales of larger products that people may view as riskier purchases like buying a couch online. In fact, Wayfair has AR prototypes they make available versus forcing the use of AR on their site visitors. They truly recognize the value of AR yet understand not all consumers will use it. They even invested in it by ensuring they had 3D representations of all of their products should a consumer want to view their potential purchase using AR. This is very helpful for items like the couches to help decide if it will fit in your home.

Ben also highlighted the merits of Lowe’s Holoroom which is a virtual reality home improvement design and visualization tool that empowers homeowners to be immersed in and experience the room of their dreams. Ben said that Lowe’s sites about a 34% improvement rate of being able to DIY using VR than when people use Youtube videos for education.

In the end, Ben reminded us, “Don’t use technology for technology sake. Gratuitous AR or VR does not always provide value. Don’t assume just because it’s there that your users will adopt the technology and find value in it.”

What are the trouble spots?

Michael shared that it is important to manage a culture of innovation so roadblocks can be minimized. “We need to break the barriers and beliefs that large organizations have and encourage openness to ideas. In fact, my team has compiled a library of ‘orthodices’ (deeply shared beliefs) that we believe are often impediments to innovation. For example, at one point people thought a smart phone needed a keyboard, but then we show the iphone; suitcases need to be carried, and now 90% are wheeled around; cars need drivers and we show autonomous driving. We use these to challenge our belief systems because our beliefs are often impediments.”

It is critical companies encourage new ideas. This means being open to taking some risk that may not be comfortable or meet the status quo.

How can you monetize designing with new technologies?

Carlos Javaroni stressed that not only is it critical to address the customer needs, but to be clear how to monetize the value so the user will pay for it. Adoption needs to be obvious so companies profit. He stressed that factoring in scalability to your design is key to profitability but so is personalizing to the user’s needs.


To wrap, Carlos, Ben and Michael summarized their tips for designing:

  • Focus on the customer’s needs; listen to your customer and talk and observe them.
  • Be careful how you classify customers because a given customer may have different personas or roles.
  • Marry the technology with solving the customer’s problems, not just for the sake of technology.
  • Be sure there is clear value so the customer will pay for what you offer.
  • Solve problems for your business by solving problems for the consumer.
  • Do quick experiments or prototypes to test ideas.
  • Contribute to a culture of innovation which includes being open to new applications and understanding user needs.
  • Think through your end-to-end value so if you are adding value in one spot, you are sure you are not reducing value in another spot.

For more on this discussion, listen to the complete hangout webinar “Designing with New Technologies in Mind”.

Gretchen Hoffman

One thought on “Designing for Your Customer First – Then Technology

Posted By: 

Gretchen Hoffman

VP Marketing