Customer Development, Innovation, Innovation Game

Generate customer insight or build awful things

Note: before we get into things: “customer” can include end users, citizens, as well as staff– in essence it is the group of people for whom you are designing a solution.

death cycle

by David Bland (don’t get into this cycle)

Build what your customers want– obviously this is what you need to do. The problem is that if you ask them what they want, they will tell you a bunch of things – many right, many wrong – and you get into what David Bland calls the “Product Death Cycle”.

Customers are not very good at articulating what they want for many reasons, including:

– They want appear agreeable, so will say anything for you to smile;

– They don’t know what you’re talking about;

– They are worried about being “sold” something all the time;

– They are thinking about other more important things than you or your product.

So instead of asking them what they want or what they think about your product you need to ask them about other things. General conversations and observations are great and what we also find helpful is facilitating interactive games and sessions with customers to find out what they want.

The types of interactive games we use vary depending on the situation, and we use Luke Hohmann’s “Innovation Games” ( as the basis for many of our activities. Aside from being fun and entertaining, these games also create the opportunity to develop deep empathy and better understanding about people’s motivations and pain points – a good example is the Sailboat game we frequently use. You need to understand these things so you can focus your thinking about what you can do to make their lives better. In other words, from this empathy and understanding we can design better solutions that address actual needs of actual human beings. (for example, this is how we have developed Butterfly)

Here are a few guidelines we follow in conducting these sessions (more here):

– The focus cannot be on your concept. This is counter-intuitive but is essential. The focus needs to be on connecting and sharing stories with people. We’ve designed and developed interactive activities so that “presentation” really becomes a laboratory for thinking about, exchanging, and developing ideas.

– Silence is important. Silence draws people in, and it invites them to fill it. Your customers need to do the talking. This isn’t a sales pitch.

– Know that, deep down, the customers do not really want you to fail. They want to be engaged, they want to be heard and listened to, and they do not want you to do a terrible job. You doing a terrible job will be boring to them eventually, after the snickering dies down.


by @gapingvoid


By engaging with your customers in this way, you and your team are able to stay grounded in insight and empathy throughout the development of your product or service.

Apart from innovation games, we also employ modifications on many of the observational and immersion methods developed by ( so that we can learn through both direct and indirect means.

All of these tools, techniques, methods, and processes are really used to determine the following:

– Who your customers actually are

– What they really want

– Why they really want it

– How they currently solve certain problems

– What’s really important to your customers

From this the team can create prototypes to present back to these same (potential) customers, enhance the design, and – ultimately – create better products and services for them.

images (1)

by @gapingvoid




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