When companies create their first product, they tend to make a few simplifying assumptions without realizing it. They assume the product will:
1 be used as they designed it,
2 be used only by intended users,
3 solve problem as it looks today
And it makes perfect sense to do that.
YOUR FIRST OPPORTUNITY ISN’T ALWAYS WHERE YOU END UP
However, it’s often the case that companies later find product break-throughs in areas they didn’t plan for. The Nalge Company’s mission is to produce lab equipment but when its indestructible Nalgene lab bottles were discovered by outdoors enthusiests then later students, new unintended uses by unexpected customer groups appeared.
Unsolicited new markets are welcome, but more typically companies must proactively seek out new opportunities on their own. As a product matures its growth declines. Answering the question, “what other problems can we solve for our customers” leads them to the creation of new high-growth products.
ENVISIONING FOLLOW-ON OPPORTUNITIES AHEAD OF TIME
It’s easy to imagine the benefits to the company of seeing follow-on opportunities earlier: (1) a clear view of future products gives more time to plan and market them, (2) future product use scenarios can impact current product design in a positive way, and (3) early provisional solutions to customer problems give a framework for discussions with customers.
Product designers ‘saturate the design space‘ through techniques that flush out more design possibilities. Technique is the operative word here - without a technique designers fall into their familiar design patterns. Wouldn’t it be great to have a simple technique for allowing product strategists to similarly ‘saturate the problem space‘?
ENTER VALUE SCENARIO RESEARCH
I recently read research about Value Scenarios. For citations, please see the ‘About the Original Research’ section at the bottom of this document. The documents are a great read for anyone in technology who influences design.
The research includes a technique for envisioning the effects of new technologies so that environmental, psychological and ethical problems can be avoided. Its goal is to help technology designers and policy makers imagine a much wider range of impacts of their technology before time and money is invested.
The technique is based on ‘value scenarios’, a design approach created by the authors that extends scenario-based design (SBD) practices. Central to SBD are ’scenarios’ which are simple narrative descriptions of user problems that product managers create to communicate customer needs to the product development group. They don’t provide solutions, but they do illustrate possible nuances of the problem.
Here’s an example of a simple problem scenario:
Carl Counselor shares school pickup and dropoff duties with his wife. Sometimes his daughter becomes ill at school and needs a ride home, and sometimes his wife needs Carl to cover pickup for her. He needs to know promptly (with 15 minutes) if something comes up so he can make arrangements. As a counselor, Carl can’t have a cell phone ringing during his sessions so needs to be alerted without his client being aware of it. This problem is worrisome for both Carl and his wife and he is desperate to find a solution.
To contrast, where SBD scenarios focus on solving a current problem with an intended user (persona), value scenarios project into the future along four dimensions:
stakeholders - indirect as well as direct user impacts,
time - now vs points in the future,
value implications - positive and subversive use, and
pervasiveness - initial vs widespread use.
ADAPTING THE TECHNIQUE FOR OPPORTUNITY DISCOVERY
What excited me about the research is that I see how this technique created for adversity prevention could be adapted for opportunity discovery. That is, use the technique to get companies thinking about opportunities in their problem space before they are in the field, and before business conditions force them to. Specifically, the technique can jolt companies out of their initial ‘our app rocks’ mentality to give them a wide and deeper view of their problem space.
I’m curious to hear from anyone who does or knows of work along these lines, and and will pursue it more myself.
ABOUT THE ORIGINAL RESEARCH
Value Scenarios: A technique for Envisioning Systemic Effects of New Technologies
(Lisa P. Nathan, Predrag V. Klasnja, Batya Friedman: University of Washington)
Envisioning Systemic Effects on Persons and Society Throughout Interactive System Design
(Lisa P. Nathan, Batya Friedman, Predrag Klasnja, Shaun K. Kane, Jessica K. Miller: University of Washington)
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Photo credit (bottles) - drummerguy8706