Christmas Gifts and the Meaning of Design | stratechery by Ben Thompson

Christmas Gifts and the Meaning of Design | stratechery by Ben Thompson:

Another great post from Ben Thompson. This time one related to gifts and giving:

I would imagine nearly all of you can relate to this story: we make lists of what we want, and hope our loved ones follow it, but truthfully, the presents we really love are things we never would have thought to ask for.

However – and this is the rub – it’s a big risk to buy something unasked for. There’s always the chance that your gift will crash-and-burn; to give something that surprises and delights takes great thought, empathy, and a true understanding of the giftee, and most of us quickly retreat to the safety and ease of the list.

I completely agree with the above. My Holy Grail of gift giving to my wife is to surprise her with something she always needed but never knew how much she needed it. So far it’s been a hit or miss kinda thing.

Not surprisingly Ben links this bake to product design. In the same way that I struggle to find the best gift for my wife and fall back to keeping a list of things that she’s verbally asked for companies do the same by not understanding their target market and instead give that same group ‘what they ask for’ as the safest bet.

However Ben points out the difference that a design minded company brings:

Approaching a problem with a design thinking mindset, however, certainly takes into account what a customer says, but simply as one input among many. In this approach, observing the way people really live, developing a deep understanding of the real problems they have, and gaining an appreciation of the “hacks” they devise to overcome them can deliver an understanding of prospective customers’ needs that is more accurate than what any of those prospective customers could ever articulate on their own.

Getting the best gift is tricky and takes a lot of time and energy. It also makes me feel bad whenever I completely misunderstand my wife and give her something I thought she would love but ultimately does not. (the ensuing awkward ‘oh but I really do like it’ isn’t comforting in the least).

Similarly it takes a very savvy designer to know exactly what a person wants without having to really get them to spell it out. That’s where the magic is.

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