Posts Tagged ‘product design’

If I ran the business

Sunday, February 20th, 2011

If I ran the business,

I’d put engineers on the lot,

Invite them to discuss

Each customer’s thought.

Engineers would not mind

This input from mankind.

On the TV remote,

I’d take out most buttons,

And add one little note

Of simplification.

Engineers would love that,

This little bit of chat.

And when my car sputters,

I’d call the company,

Talk to designers

Out there in Germany.

“There’s a noise on the right,

Fix the darn thing in flight.”

They might protest a dab,

And do it in the lab.

I would have a big screen

Through which I’d call them all,

Engineers could be seen

Through my designer wall.

“Change this and that,” I’d say,

And they would all obey.

They would welcome my art,

For engineers are smart.

From my suburb nearby

To the farthest nation,

They would all amplify

Our co-creation.

And engineers would bring

Some new composition,

That customers would sing

In a grand jam session.

They would get a new pride,

And might well smile inside.

For engineers get healed

Once their hearts are revealed.

Worst product introduction ever

Sunday, June 20th, 2010

The Jabulani soccer ball recently introduced by Adidas at the soccer World Cup in South Africa is so bad it eclipses the vuvuzela as most annoying feature of the event. The ball behaves like a beach ball, making goalies look inept, leading passers to consistently overshoot their target, and giving free-kick shooters the choice of either innocuously hitting the wall in front of them or sending the ball way over the crossbar, because the ball won’t drop. Some even blame the ball for the low scores of most games so far (we’re on day 10 of a 30-day event). In the word of Daniel Agger, a leading Danish player who wears Adidas gear with his national team: “It makes us look like drunken sailors.” How is that for endorsement from a guy who exhibits your logo on his jersey? The Wikipedia entry for Jabulani, after the customary technical description of the product, consists mostly of devastating comments by global soccer stars. One of the strongest positive statements about the ball has come from Spanish player Alvaro Arbeloa, who stated: “It’s round, like always”.

So what’s the problem? Well, it seems Adidas went for great technical features, but forgot to co-create its design with players. In great German tradition, the engineering is spectacular. I am strangely fascinated by a video put out by Adidas, which shows the manufacturing process involved. If you want to dedicate 4 minutes and 26 seconds of your life to this silent exploration of a state-of-the-art manufacturing process, you will discover that there are only eight panels in this ball, down from 12 at the last world cup and 32 historically, which gives players more surface to kick at – although the artistry of soccer used to involve utilizing the unevenness of the ball for advantage, which had its fans. You can watch the eight panels made of ethylene vinyl acetate and thermoplastic urethanes being molded and thermally bonded – forget the stitching that formerly produced occasionally inaccurate trajectories. The Adidas promotional literature also praises the “aero grooves” or microtexture indentations, aimed to give the players more control – although someone clearly forgot to tell the Danish drunken sailor about that.

In the end, though, this wonderfully engineered product yields a terrible experience for players and spectators alike. The design disconnect is neatly summed up by Brazilian soccer star Robinho: “For sure the guy who designed this ball never played football.”

Adidas has produced some lame response, stating that the ball has been in use since January 2010 and that most of the feedback had been positive so far. There is some question about the objectivity of that feedback, as many players are under contract with Adidas – although the counter-argument has also been presented that critics of the new ball are under contract with competing suppliers such as Nike or Puma. The firm also points out that there has always been some criticism of new balls during World Cups, and the criticism has typically died out quickly after the event.

In the end, though, there is little doubt this ball has significant flaws. Why did Adidas not open up its design to many of these soccer stars and get them to dialogue with the designers during the design, rather than simply test the product at the end? Daniel Agger, Alvaro Arbeloa, and Robinho undoubtedly would have had ideas about choice of material, number of panels, thermo-forming, and micro-textures if they had been engaged in the dialogue with designers.  But designers would have to open up their kitchen and allow the players to do more than test the ball when it’s all done and decide they don’t like it, which is pretty much what happened. We never stop relearning that lesson: the experience of products needs to be co-created between users and product developers. And now that we’ve straightened out what’s wrong with the soccer ball, let’s turn to the vuvuzela.