How the Blender illustrates “designing the product” vs. “designing the whole product experience”

There’s a new post over at On Product Management about blenders, and what they tell us about simplicity.

blendtecNow, as it happens, my blender of choice is not a simple blender.

I’m a dedicated – but very non-fussy/pragmatic – gourmet cook, and I love my BlendTec.  (You may recognize the name from the “Will It Blend?” YouTube videos, which are brilliant.).

Simplicity is one way to think about it. Designing the whole product experience is another.

Saeed writes:

The usage scenario goes something like this:

  1. Place the contents to be blended into the blending  container
  2. Blend for 10-15 seconds (maybe 20 seconds in extreme cases)
  3. Pour the contents out of the container

That certainly sounds like the types of usage scenarios I typically read in Product Requirements docs.  But it illustrates the difference between “designing the product” and “designing the whole product experience.”

There’s an exercise that most introductory programming courses use to illustrate how you think through a problem.  Students are asked to write out the steps for “explain how you would explain, unambiguously, how to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich“.  Usually the professor then “acts out” one of the responses, and hilarity ensues as the class realizes that they forgot to explicitly state that you need to open the bread bag, or unscrew the lid of the peanut butter jar.

Follow your users into the kitchen to think about how it will be used in context.

  1. Place the contents to be blended into the blending  container. — Wait a second, where is the blender?  It’s not on the counter.

blender-on-counter

Problem identified.  “Putting stuff in the blender” is not where your use case starts.   For many of your users, the first steps is getting the blender out.  Which raises a few questions:

  1. Why isn’t the blender always on the counter?
  2. Where is the blender stored?  Does the user have to bend over and rummage around in a blind cupboard?  Do they have to get on a step-stool to reach it?  Is it heavy?
  3. When the person retrieves the blender, is it ready for use or does it need to be dusted/re-assembled?

Let’s go back to the original “Why” in the diagram and see if there is some way we can fix these issues as part of the product experience:

tiny-counter

By exploring the situation a bit more, we’ve identified some new potential differentiators:

  • Make it smaller
  • Make it lighter / easier to move

These may not seem like revolutionary features, but they both reduce the friction of using the blender.

To make the blender smaller or lighter, you aren’t cutting features – you’re trading them for convenience.  For never having a user say “I don’t feel like bothering with the blender.”

Now let’s look at the other side:

not-worth-it

Here we see two more areas to explore:

  • Make it more useful
  • Make it easier to clean

You can see where this is going.  Your customers do not think of your blender as being some separate entity. They don’t say, “OK, I’m going to use the blender now.”  They say “I’m going to make some soup.”

Your product success is dependent on how well you enable the experience of making soup.

Your product vision cannot start and stop with “turn the blender on” / “turn the blender off”.  

The kinds of questions you’ll want to ask…

  1. Is the blender already out on the counter?
  2. If not, where is it stored?
  3. When the person retrieves the blender, is it ready for use or does it need to be dusted/re-assembled?
  4. Do the food contents need pre-preparation (i.e. cut into small enough pieces for the blender to handle?)
  5. How long did steps 1-5 take? During this time, was the person doing another activity that occupied their attention? (i.e. sauteeing the onions, which burned because it took too long to get the blender out and ready to use)
  6. Place the contents to be blended into the blending  container
  7. What type of items will the person want to blend? Would differing levels of time/speed be necessary for the blender to adequately blend them?
  8. Blend for 10-15 seconds (maybe 20 seconds in extreme cases)
  9. Pour the contents out of the container.
  10. What parts of the blender need to be washed before the next usage?
  11. Does the blender need to be disassembled before it can be washed?
  12. Can the washable piece(s) be easily carried to the sink with one hand?
  13. Does the blender need to be covered or re-assembled prior to putting it away?

Don’t narrow your product vision too soon.  Storage, kitchen design, dishwashing, and trying to get dinner on the table before 8pm are all part of your product universe.

You can embrace it and create successful products that your customers love, or ignore it and wonder why your product isn’t selling very well.

blender-diagramView the whole blender flowchart diagram as a PDF. (It’s pretty cool.)

10 Responses to “How the Blender illustrates “designing the product” vs. “designing the whole product experience””

Trevor Rotzien:

Context is everything! Great post, Cindy. A significant part of my career has been necessarily dedicated to getting various participants & stakeholders from one level of abstraction to another, so we can be more comprehensively informed and rationally considerate of the implications of the forest AND the trees.

David Locke:

Another question, when I take it out of the dishwasher, will the gasket have fallen out of the basket and stuck to the bottom of the dishwasher?

Offers expand over the life of a product. As the offer expands, so does the extent of the experience.

Early market people dwell in the world of the device. It doesn’t have to be easy. Their focus is on the device. The device is the offer. The device is the experience.

Late market people dwell in the world of the dish, not its preparation. They focus on what they are creating, rather than the means of creation. Their focus is on the end product, aka the milkshake. The offer has expanded vastly. The experience has likewise become a habit. See the book “Habit.”

The offer changes over time, because the population underlying the market changes. When listening to the customer, try to listen to the customer population once the product is actually released and on the market, rather than the population when the product is being specified.

The transition to late market is predictable. All the market transitions are predictable. If you are expecting a transition, listen to the future, not the past.

I loved your methodology. Thanks.

Jon Innes:

Good explanation of experience design. Only one flaw with your diagram. One reason it may not be out on the counter you overlooked is the blender is ugly. Don Norman’s book on emotional design explains this well. If a blender is cool enough looking, the owner leaves it out more, and it gets used more becoming part of their lifestyle.

Cindy:

Jon: Excellent point!

Aesthetics is why my standing mixer has a permanent spot on the counter – the color matches the rest of the kitchen. (Well, that and I have plenty of counter space and the damn thing’s too heavy to move.)

David Locke:

Cindy, The weight problem provides someone with another opportunity, a kitchen crane. It would run on an I-beam hung on the ceiling. The crane could open cabinets and dig under stacks of things to get whatever you need. It might take a day to get the turkey platter unburied, but no lifting. It would be a great product for a retirement home as well.

Often thought about having a crane to drag the kid into the shower.

Another alternative would be to write a book using the blender as an exercise device–aerobic blender lifts.

Cindy:

David: Your comment reminds me that I really ought to write a post on “how a product manager designs her kitchen”.

We bought a fixer-upper and one of the benefits of that was getting to do the whole kitchen. It was really eye-opening, how vigilant you have to be to avoid designing severe inefficiencies into a cooking workspace.

Digging through blind cabinets, lifting heavy items from up high or down low, storage space that puts things out of sight, out of mind…

Saeed Khan:

Cindy

Good article. I touched upon a couple of things you mention (like weight and clean up) in my post and those are certainly part of the positive experience of both the immersion blender and the Magic Bullet. Both are lightweight and easy to clean which is not the case for the full blender.

One other factor that could be related to experience is price. Sticker shock can be an unpleasant experience! :-)

Given you are gourmet cook, the price/value prop of the Blendtec may not be as much of an issue for you as it is, say, for me. But of course, regardless of price, how much you use it is critical.

BTW, the only things in our kitchen that have dedicated counter space are:

Microwave oven, toaster oven, radio and Kitchen-Aid Mixer.

The first 3 because we use them so frequently. The mixer because it is so heavy and bulky, storing it someplace except the countertop would render it impractical to ever use.

David Locke:

Cindy, The weight problem provides someone with another opportunity, a kitchen crane. It would run on an I-beam hung on the ceiling. The crane could open cabinets and dig under stacks of things to get whatever you need. It might take a day to get the turkey platter unburied, but no lifting. It would be a great product for a retirement home as well.

Often thought about having a crane to drag the kid into the shower.

Another alternative would be to write a book using the blender as an exercise device–aerobic blender lifts.

Ddbeck:

This is well done.

Velda (At Blendtec):

Thanks for this well-thought-out post. It sounds like you’re having a good experience, and we are glad to hear it… Happy blending!

Leave a Reply