I recently met Leslie Grandy in the Twittersphere. The moment I landed on her thoughtful blog, I knew I wanted to meet her. The blog, GearheadGal, is at "the intersection of Consumerism, Design and Technology." Leslie has been the head of Apple e-commerce and Product Development at T-Mobile. This, on top of lots of other serious tech jobs, and on top of a credentialed career in the film industry. Am I going to listen to what she says? You betcha.
Beyond packing so much into one lifetime (that is far from over!), I am crazy about people who combine dissimilar threads in their careers. It usually makes for a fascinating person, and often a great leader. I was delighted when Leslie agreed to write a guest post for our blog. See below. -Jules
I love books. And libraries. And bookstores. I love the idea I can own thoughts, and I can see them physically on a shelf. My mother was an English professor and I have a lot of memories around the smell of books, libraries and bookstores. I spent a lot of my childhood buried in stacks of books. I own a lot of books. Memories are a powerful thing. They frame so many choices we make – from the media we consume, to our favorite foods, even to the places we live. We also create new “memories” all the time.
It should follow, therefore, that deep connections to the products we buy are informed by those memories as well as the emotions they conjure up. It doesn’t take a lot to do that. The look, sound, smell and taste of an experience can telegraph how we should “feel” about a product or service. Emotional bonds with products are also created from the perfect marriage of utility and appeal. I have recently discovered a set of cases that look like miniaturized eyeglass cases, made from “eco-leather” in bright, candy colors. They are palm sized, smooth and polished. I carry a big tote bag when I travel with all sorts of little odds and ends I toss inside. I have bought a lot of cases of all shapes and materials to try to help me stay organized, but I adore these. Why? Because the colors make me happy. They’re easy to spot and even when they are closed, they communicate to me. My stereo earbuds are white, and fit inside the white case. My Jawbone Prime is candy apple red, so it resides in the red case. The material is durable, so when it bangs around in the bottom of my bag it stays glossy and bright, and the hinge stays closed. They are stylish and functional at the same time, and because I love to use them, I find I want to carry them even when I don’t travel.
Online shopping has made it dramatically harder to sense everything about a product, and predict if or how you might emotionally attach to it, since comparing and purchasing have become mostly visual experiences in a digital world. Don’t get me wrong, online shopping has been a huge innovation that has changed my behavior around shopping dramatically. The accessibility of world goods from local craftspeople and the convenience of 24/7 purchasing are windfall benefits. But they come at a cost. You don’t always evaluate products by touch or interaction as much as our parents and grandparents did. Manufacturers and retailers seem to worry less about our “out of the box” experience, since a product may come in cellophane wrap within a cardboard box or appear drowning in a sea of Styrofoam peanuts.
Products communicate to consumers through design, and design makes products useful. In a digital world, though, it is only getting harder for us to connect with the things we buy, and product designers must be even more inventive to create emotional attachment. If it’s impossible to assess the physical form and substance of a product prior to buying it, the design will have to work harder to convey the product value. I still love physical books and the smell of pulp, so I thought I’d never buy an e-Reader, but I have to admit I have got a crush on my Kindle. As someone who chooses what I read based on my mood, the big win for me is that I no longer have to decide what to pack in my carry-on bag or drag to the beach. In fact, my Kindle will let me carry 1,500 books with me everywhere I go, and I can read a book review and own the book within seconds. All of those books I adore are now with me all the time, any time. What’s not to love about that? Technology will never supplant the power of products to connect a consumer to their emotions or memories. But great product design can seal those connections with customers that will last a lifetime.