Saturday, September 29, 2012

Why the LG Intuition Is Destined To Fail

I could've saved LG millions of dollars if they had come to me first and shown me a prototype of the Intuition. I'd give them a lesson of what NOT to do when it comes to product design, and the three things you need to make a product truly successful.

But before we begin, let's give you the UXUiOS philosophy when it comes to great design.

At its core, design is simply problem solving. How do I clean my butt after I poop? How do I keep my teeth clean? How do I make a phone call?

As a designer, we can brainstorm to come up with thousands of ways to solve these problems. But we are paid to find the best way. So how do we get to that "magical" zone that is incredibly awesome design?

Simple. All design can be measured with these four benchmarks:

1. It solves my problem.
2. The solution is easy to use.
3. I need it now.
4. I want it … now!!!

To see how this works, let's focus on this problem: How do you clean your butt after you poop? Perhaps a crude choice, but it's one everyone can identify with.

With #1, that's a pretty low hurdle to jump. You can come up with thousands of ways to solve this problem: A garden hose, compressed air blasts, your fingers, etc. All design solutions start here but the bad designs tend to stay stuck here.

Getting to #2 is where functional design lives. Toilet paper is a good example for this #2 (get the joke?) because it solves the problem AND is easy to use. Much easier to put a roll of toilet paper in your bathroom than a connection to your garden hose.

Between #2 and #3 is when we begin our transition from getting from the solution to a specific product or design. So if toilet paper is #2, then we focus on specific designs, (i.e. such as those for Charmin and Angel Soft) to get any higher.

Getting to #3 is where marketable design lives. Sometimes, good design comes from consumer perception and advertising (whether accurate or not). Sometimes, it's in the quality of workmanship. Sometimes, it's in getting great value for the price. And sometimes, it's because it really is a good design.

In our case, most brands of toilet paper never reach this #3 level because frankly, you can't improve too much on the functional design of toilet paper: flexible, flushable, tears into squares, cleans the butt.

Charmin and Angel Soft may have added some unique design to make their products stand above the rest (i.e. thicker paper, more ply, softer feel) -- but frankly, the only reason they trigger someone to say "I need this specific brand now" is because of advertising and/or a good sales price. Their product designs may indeed be better, but really, it's advertising that gets any toilet paper to #3.

So how do you get past #3 to #4, which represents the world's best designs? Well, unless there's some revolutionary breakthrough in how we think about cleaning our butts after pooping, toilet paper will never make it to #4.

A good rule of thumb too is that when you reach level #3, you'll have competition, so the goal is to rise above the rest to really shine. Also, the more expensive the product, the more likely you'll need to reach #4 to really succeed.

Apple's iPhone is an obvious example of a #4: When it came out, there were tons of competitors with phones, but thanks to really good design, great advertising, and the perception of desirability thanks to the first two factors, it made people say "I want it … now!!!"

In the context of what I do for a living (user experience and interface design), I come up with mobile software solutions to solve my client's problems. If I phone in the design, I'll get to #2. If I want my clients to be happy with my design, I'll need to get to #3. But the only way I'll wow my clients and get repeat business and good referrals is if I can take my designs to #4 and make them and their customers say, "I want that ... now!!!"

So when both you and your clients see a design and you all agree, "I want that ... now!" you've probably got a great design in hand (either that or you're all too blind to see how bad it really is).

That's a deep dive in thinking about design, but simply put, you can hold up any product design to see if it can hit those benchmarks. So let's return to the LG Intuition and discuss.

So what problem does the Intuition purport to solve? It's a device that lets you use it as a tablet as well as a smart phone.

Right off the bat, I'd tell LG that they're breaking one of my core design principles, which is focus. They're attempting to solve two problems rather than just one. This makes coming up with a great #4 solution much much harder than if they just focused on one or the other.

That's a potential "uh oh" red flag -- but let's assume LG did their homework and did research that said there's a market for such a solution. Does the Intuition reach #1? Does it solve the problem?

Based on other reviews out there, the answer seems to be yes. Larger screen in a 4:3 format, but small enough to make phone calls.

How about benchmark #2: Is the solution easy to use? Again, based on other reviews, it seems easy enough to use. The browser seems to be slow, but overall it works just as you'd expect.

But getting to #2 is easy. Now we get to #3: Do people need the Intuition?

Right now, we're getting in trouble here with the Intuition. There are already lots of phones that can do similar things, even though they may have smaller screens. There are already lots of tablets that can do similar things, even though they can't place cell phone calls.

And we get to the beauty of these benchmarks. You can build a good solution to a problem, but if nobody needs it or wants it, the solution will fail to be marketable. Maybe if LG can use some great advertising and create the (what I would contend is false) perception that people actually need this, then there might be some hope. Alternatively, they can drop the pricing so that buyers get to #3 and #4 via a great price point (Remember the HP Touchpad? No one really wanted or needed one until it dropped to $99).

Frankly, looking at the selling points of the Intuition, I don't see anything I need. Tablet-like versatility? If I really needed a tablet … wouldn't I just buy one without being locked into a phone contract?

Aspect ratio ... who cares? In fact, reviews say the 4:3 screen is pointless for widescreen video.

Quick Memo? Why not just tweet the screen shot or email it to a friend with a text comment?

At the end of the day, the Intuition addresses the problem … but it's a solution that nobody needs or wants.

And that is why the LG Intuition is destined to fail.

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