In this article, we analyse the distancing of users in product and service design caused by industrialisation and the digitisation of processes.
WHEN THE INDUSTRIAL REVOLUTION LED US AWAY FROM THE USER.
In the early twentieth century, the world experienced a process of industrialisation and modernisation that redefined society forever. The industrial revolution was undoubtedly the advent of what we know today as the consumer society, an industry based on economies of scale and a consumption-hungry society that has fostered a steady increase in the quality of life through products that make life easier.
The transformation of production processes meant that the business structure of the world's key economies shifted from fragmented alliances in micro-companies to huge companies that produced the same goods for a mass market and at a more competitive price. Similarly, the relationship of producers with their consumers changed significantly, moving from a close bond revolved around needs-specific and bespoke items to products designed to be manufactured in large quantities and distributed over long distances to very diverse audiences.
Industrialisation vastly extended the distance between the consumer and the product designer, so much so that products started to be designed without taking the consumer's direct needs into account.
The evolution of economic sectors from 1850 to 2010 reflects the acceleration triggered by industrialisation and process automation
DIGITISATION AND BIG DATA: WHEN DATA CANNOT ANSWER THE 'WHYS' OF USER BEHAVIOUR.
We’re observing a very similar situation today with what we call digitisation, a process that is progressing relentlessly and which, as happened with the secondary industry during industrialisation, is particularly noticeable in the tertiary industry.
To give an example of this phenomenon, we can take a look at banking, an industry that has undergone a radical overhaul in the past decade. Twenty years ago, a bank's interaction with its customers would be solely through its branch personnel, but today we rarely have to go to our bank in person. Digital platforms have enabled banks to meet their customers' requirements without the need for a bricks-and-mortar presence. Without a doubt, this is a major benefit for the consumer.
But what has happened to everyday and direct contact with customers? It goes without saying that this ‘knowledge’ has been replaced by huge amounts of information: data, interactions, preferences, trends, KPIs, likes, behaviours, information flows, minimum terms, and so on. Everything can be tested, measured, observed and analysed with big data.
It’s true that big data gives companies an analytical capacity which was previously inconceivable, but it would be a mistake to think that we can manage without a close relationship with our consumers and the knowledge that it provides us.
Data is a great starting point on which to focus the design of products or services because it opens up possible windows of opportunity. Thanks to big data, we can collect information about the behaviour of our customers and potential customers. Even so, data analysis isn’t enough to secure in-depth knowledge on how to focus our efforts and investment into resources, as it acts more like a marker that points us towards where we should be channelling our attention.
THE MILLION-DOLLAR QUESTION IN THIS SCENARIO IS: CAN DATA ANSWER THE 'WHYS' OF CONSUMER/USER BEHAVIOUR?
There are many ways in which we can interact with our target audience, but only in a close relationship will we get valuable answers to the question: why?
USER-centred DESIGN: THE SECRET TO SUCCESS FOR DESIGNING REAL SOLUTIONS FOR THE USER
People-focussed design is more than just an exercise in empathy. It's vital to know the person for whom we are going to create an in-depth solution: their interaction with the product, their frustrations, their motivation behind consuming it and even their emotional relationship with the brand, the product or the service they use.
Now is a good time to recall the precedent set by the printing company Xerox, which for the first time wanted to focus on the whys of user behaviour and decided to analyse how people interacted with one of their photocopiers, placing anthropologists at the head of their design teams. This initiative started off what we know today as user-centred design.
To design new products and services, it's crucial to place special emphasis on the user, providing this interpretive and reflective vision that will be the starting point for new horizons and opportunities for the company.
The market is evolving rapidly and relentlessly, and this constant change is why people should remain at the centre of our research into the design of products and services. The distance between supply and demand, as we have seen, seems to be getting longer and longer and we should be working towards shortening it.
Only then will we really detect unattended needs, frustrations and desires and, as a result, will we be able to provide products that fully satisfy the needs of the people receiving our value proposition.
Research is paramount in order to reduce the distance between designer and user in the context of the current market.
TODAY, IT'S ESSENTIAL TO BACK UP QUANTITATIVE INFORMATION WITH A QUALITATIVE IN-DEPTH ANALYSIS OF THE USER
What's more, to understand the factors that open up a window of opportunity, we need to understand which elements (personal and external) influence users to respond how they do; which new needs, problems or expectations are arising from these situations; and how the user wishes to include a possible solution to them.