Friday, October 03, 2008

Concepts Versus Products: Usability Is About Execution

A good distinction between Concepts and Products ...

"In a - in my humble opinion - brilliant post on his counternotions blog, 'Kontra' goes head on with the notion of product concepts: Why Apple Doesn't do 'Concept Products'. He argues that product concepts often are made in and for a make-believe context: the designers working on them are not challenged by real world constraints, thus coming up with concepts such as the Nokia Morph that are as appealing as they are unrealistic. In addition he points out that presenting 'future concepts' might actually contribute more to the public image of a company than to day-to-day product development. If your concept really is that good: why not keep them a secret and put al your effort into getting it to the market instead of sharing it with the rest of the world? His argumentation finally culminates in Kontra’s law:

A commercial company’s ability to innovate is inversely proportional to its proclivity to publicly release conceptual products.

Dissemination of 'Vision of the Future'
The argument about revealing strategic directions to your competitors struck a cord with me. In 1995 Philips Design did the wildly inspiring Vision of the Future project. A number of years later they had a consultancy agency (I believe it was McKinsey) execute a study to investigate to what extent their predictions had been accurate. If I recall correctly, it turned out that about 70% of the concepts had become, or were on the verge of becoming real products. In most of the cases, however, the companies that were making the products were not Philips (I apologize, I read this a while ago and I have been trying to find a reference for this story, can't find it anywhere...).

On the other hand, there was also the Philips spin-off company Polymervision, aiming for something that is remarkably like one of the Shiva concepts from Vision of the Future. But most of all, the Visions of the Future project put Philips Design on the map as one of the most inspiring design agencies to work with and work for. And you need to ask: would all these other companies not have developed these products if Philips Design had not made (and revealed) its predictions? In other words: was there really any damage done by publicly displaying these product concepts?"    (Continued via the product usability weblog, Counternotions)    [Usability Resources]

Apple's last publicly presented concept product: the information navigator - Usability, User Interface Design

Apple's last publicly presented concept product: the information navigator

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