Wednesday, June 9, 2010

How to find out what your customer wants

I've been thinking of an idea that is so obvious that I wonder that it's not common practice, or if it's done at all.
This is my two cents for designers and manufacturers who would like to get into the minds of their customers.
Why not put a page on your website where customers can say what they would like you to design for them.
Seems to me hundreds of thousands of dollars are spent by design and manufacturing companies annually trying find out what end users want. Ethnographic studies and focus groups among others are conducted to generate new concepts and ideas for the next new product.
However as a consumer, I know exactly what I need and what I cannot find in the market and I am dying to tell you so.
So why not give us all a forum where we can post up our ideas, needs, wants and wishlists.

Take for example, a woman's need for something to protect nail polish from rubbing off her nails when wearing closed shoes. (I actually had a woman ask me about this in a dance class several years ago).
For some reason, you put in immense elbow grease to get the nail polish off with remover, but it comes away effortlessly when it should not.
There are lots of fine articles for feet but what women need is something like a fine stocking which covers only the nails of the toes and which will not show above the top of the shoe.
There is widely available a slip-on stocking which goes on just over the foot but it tends to slip off from the heel when walking, or it's too hot for summer, and peeps out over the top of the shoe. In a word, "unsuitable".

Realising that Dr Scholl and the stocking companies were just not up to the task, I decided to take a trip to the neighborhood of those most inventive of people: Chinatown!
And there they were- the perfect little nail polish savers that fit discretely over the nails without peeping out of the shoe.
Not only that, but there were tiny stocking parts made to fit around the foot like a band, and some that could be worn with open toe shoes and sandals to protect your feet without being visible.
Some are also to be found at the Pacific Mall in Toronto.

You have to give the Chinese credit. They may make cheap imitations and flood the market with designer knock-offs in clothing and accessories. But when it comes to household products and accessories to nip, taper and tuck women into their clothes and shoes, these people must be applauded for their inventiveness.
They come up with common sense solutions that are not paralled in the West. I would love to investigate the sources of the innovations. Where do the ideas come from and to what extent if at all, is it a design thinking process. Who comes up with new concepts, and how do the needs of the end users find their way to the designers.
(And while I'm at it, who invented bubble tea?
Have to say it Starbucks- bubble tea trumps your watery iced teas any day!)

In the meantime however, I'll settle for a section on the website of each company that designs products, where customers can post up wishes for design solutions to problems.
Wouldn't it save time and effort if the head of design and research could find out exactly what customers need all in one place. This way he/she can detect the trends in what people want and plan what designs need to be worked on in the upcoming business year.

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