Wednesday, April 3, 2019 | Washington, DC
When I was a child, our family tradition provided that my father carved the roast. When I was about 6 years old, on Mother’s Day my father proudly presented my mom with a gift: An electric knife. I still remember how impressed I was with that tool — it was pretty cool! But even at that young age, I remember thinking to myself: Is that gift really for my mother?
In my dad’s mind, the gift simplified a task and perfected the work product — beautiful slices of roast, with little effort!
In my mom’s mind, the tool required an extension cord to the family table, and buzzed loudly. To her, it interfered with the ambiance of a family gathered around a table to enjoy a handcrafted meal together, the image of domestic harmony and tranquility.
We all have similar stories in our families, and — let’s face it — we all have items in our closets that were gifts from a well-meaning family member — gifts that don’t fit right or don’t really meet a need, or aren’t our preference.
Sometimes, we envision a really cool technology, or capability, or application, or gift — but we don’t fully understand the needs or the experience of the end user.
That mistake results in a long and winding road to product success. We see examples of this in many technologies.
- •When the internet was new, engineering teams dreamed of smart washing machines that wouldn’t operate unless the setting was appropriate for the color and fabrics that were loaded into it.
- When I was a child, some folks were excited about household video phones. But outside of offices, video telephony didn’t really take off until the internet. As it turns out, the absence of a video image is actually a benefit to those of us who make calls in our pajamas.
We must ask ourselves: For whom are we designing? For whom are we building? And are we listening to them? Are we meeting their needs, or are we satisfying our own?
Every technology will have its early adopters, its boosters: Some of us absolutely love the sense of exploration, discovery — and the sense of being at the cutting edge of innovation. Some of us love adapting, customizing, even hacking to push the frontier even further.
And every technology will also have its reluctant adopters: People who love the simplicity or familiarity or cost-effectiveness of existing solutions. Or the experience itself — I, for example, love the experience of driving mountain roads in California with a manual transmission — curve, grade, conditions, traction, weather, and machine.
The key to commercial success of new technologies is to understand the majority of potential users, including what attributes and experiences they value in existing products. And to recognize that there are valued attributes outside of the product experience — and those attributes matter, too.
Today’s dialogue is an important one. Open communication that brings together what we know about the technology, and what we know about its potential users — this is the key to bringing lifesaving technologies to our roadways.
Remember what we know about potential users — this is the key to bringing lifesaving technologies to our roadways. Lifesaving technologies that also have the potential to be life-changing for many in providing mobility and accessibility options to community segments that are currently underserved.