Business metric: Will they touch it?

Fast Company's best innovation essays from 2011 including several thought provoking business reads, including "branding isn't about repeating messages, but of creating patterns" and "creating products for The Lady Gaga Generation."

Luke Williams, a fellow at Frog Design, penned one essay on how to spot markets ripe for disruption, and suggested a couple of ways that are both simple and profound. One method is to patiently observe how customers behave as opposed to asking them what they want, which may be one reason why Intel employs perhaps the most famous corporate anthropologist in the world, Genevieve Bell. As patient observers of culture, anthropologists document the exchange of value in intimate settings.

There a world of difference between looking and seeing; keen observation is the one creative act most accessible to each of us.

The other insight is the importance of touch. In a world suffused with too much data and too few ways to evaluate it, good industrial design has become more important than ever. Apple's willingness, for example, to invest in pleasing and sensual products when everyone assumed that the value in computing was in the operating system, also known as Microsoft software, was a key to the company's resurrection from market afterthought. I'm typing this on a precise notebook milled from a single blog of aluminum, which really pleases the geek and maker in me. Remember those beige boxes?


All the Apple designers I’ve met share this awareness of context, which may explain why they’re often sensitive to critical details that their competitors overlook. They examine the context for themselves rather than having it described by someone else. Jonathan Ive, Senior Vice President of Industrial Design, describes his observations of people interacting with Mac computers in an Apple store: 'When people are looking at Macs in stores, they’re drawn to them in a very physical way. They don’t mind moving them around or touching them.' That observation lead him to an important insight: 'You’re seldom intimidated by something that you can feel. If you’re intimidated by an object, you tend not to want to touch it.'

So, for Apple, there was an opportunity to give people a tangible sense of control over the technology by establishing an immediate physical connection between the user and the computer. Think again about the statement 'people are seldom intimidated by something they want to touch.' That’s an insight that wouldn’t have been possible without close, unobtrusive observation of people interacting with technology. To cultivate insights and uncover opportunities, you need to observe the telling moments that reveal what consumers actually feel and do (as opposed to what they say they feel).