Moment of Truth in Designing a Differentiated Product

This post originally appeared at Core 77

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The MP3 player wasn’t a new thing when the iPod came out, nor was the iPhone the first smart phone,” observes John Maeda, Design Partner at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and former president of the Rhode Island School of Design. “But they were the ones that made you give a damn.”

What Maeda describes in that 2011 Huffington Post article is the First Moment of Truth (FMOT)—that moment when a consumer walks into a store, faced with several comparable products and has to make a decision. They pick up MP3 player one, MP3 player two, hold them in their hands and, in that FMOT, decide which one they will purchase. In a world where many products are relatively similar in terms of technology, price, performance and features, design is that differentiator.

That differentiator is what companies like Karten Design try to create. “How do you get mindshare? How do you stand out? How do you create “sticky” stuff? We use design research,” says Stuart Karten, Principal and Founder of Karten Design, a product innovation firm made up of scientists, sociologists, anthropologists, and designers who go out and spend time with the people for whom they are designing products.

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We are trying to understand their habits and ceremonies, so that we can create products that fit in with the way people live their lives, making them easier to adopt,” explains Karten. “Most importantly, we are trying to find unmet needs—common needs that are persistent in people’s lives, but aren’t being satisfied through the current products, or even the product categories that are available on the market. We use unmet needs to drive new ideas.”

For consumer electronics, that means not only identifying a target audience and creating a product for them, but also following through on the promise of what the product does. That second piece, known as the Second Moment of Truth (SMOT), is vital to creating a positive, lasting impression with a consumer. “That’s the gauge that you have to use to make a truly successful consumer product,” shares Karten. “It has to look good to earn that first moment of truth, and then you have to deliver on it with a product that holds meaning and value in a person’s life.”

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To ensure a positive FMOT and SMOT, Karten and his team go back to where they start the ideation process—with people. “Take things and put them in front of users quickly. That design principle is embedded in our company,” says Karten. “We want to get feedback from people earlier and quicker in the design process to find out what stands out, which ideas resonate functionally and emotionally. Go to the people.” Earlier feedback means faster iterations, shortening the timeline it takes to put a product on the shelf.

That process involves creating a series of virtual and physical low fidelity mock-ups, iterating and repeating, increasing the fidelity with each round. Virtual prototypes can give focus groups a very realistic visualization of the final product, saving time and money before moving on to physical prototypes. “Thanks to new technologies such as 3D printing, the iterative design process can now happen very quickly and cost effectively, so it’s taking off a lot of time in the product design process—across the board,” says Arieh Halpern, Life Sciences Industry Business Consultant Director at Dassault Systemes. Dassault Systèmes works to create solutions like *Ideation & Concept Design*, which keeps track of requirements and manages concurrent focus groups, helping shorten the timeline from research to market. “You’re now able to work on the same concept design with your focus groups in real time, do your drawings in real time, and then convert those into 3D prints,” explains Halpern.

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Shortening that timeline makes a huge difference in the field of consumer electronics, where a shorter timeline means putting that product in the hand of focus groups for that FMOT and SMOT that much sooner. In a field where design is the differentiator [PDF], that time can make all the difference in the success of a product. “With a consumer electronic product, you have to create something that somebody wants. You have to steal the show,” says Karten. “That’s the first moment of truth.” If a product doesn’t deliver on that first moment of truth, it might be the last.

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