It happens here: Consumer-centric Innovation in Charlotte and beyond

A case for optimism: Charlotteans envision life in 2020 by Nheeda Enriquez

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Though I’m still new to Charlotte, I’ve been energized by some civic events lately, most recently with Center City Partners’ visioning workshop at the Convention Center.  It was the first of 3 community workshops, inviting citizens to give input to city leaders on how to transform Charlotte by 2020.

Beyond the topic itself, I really enjoyed with the structure of the workshop.  The consulting group (MIG) and project leaders provided multiple ways to take part: via Post-It notes and comment cards, through verbal feedback, and even through streaming video and social media, thanks to the CLTblog folks.  They visualized comments and ideas on a large mural, which I know from facilitating ideation sessions, keeps folks engaged and contributing.  The meeting ended with a survey called an “Idea Lab” where we voted on 20+ concepts using green, yellow, and red sheets of paper, a method I’ve seen to evaluate product designs and even election debates, but it was neat to see it used as a temperature gauge for urban planning.   It all made for an optimistic night, where we felt free to think about positive change for a few hours.

I wish that more citizens came out to participate, particularly those with more diverse viewpoints outside of Uptown.  Though I’m a big fan of green spaces and walkable cities, I’m sure that there are others who could make the case for investing in other kinds of projects.

Follow all the action on Charlotte 2020 here.  I understand the survey and all the presentation materials will be available on the site soon.

I heart Supercook: choice editing at its finest by Nheeda Enriquez
logo via supercook

logo via supercook

For weeks now, I’ve been preaching the wonders of Supercook to anyone who will listen (although the site’s been around for a little while.)  It’s a lovely solution to the problem of sorting through infinite amounts of digital information to make everyday choices.  In a nutshell, you tell Supercook what you’ve got in your fridge or cabinet, and it offers you a set of recipes you can make right now, without leaving the house.

Roger Dooley over at his Neuromarketing blog also shares a good analysis of choice editing in other interfaces, mostly using sliders and rating systems.  What Supercook and these other examples do well is organize options so they’re customized to your preferences.  At the same time, these sites succeed in giving you have access to the universe of choice should you want it.

A quick visit to a recent past: Part 2 by Nheeda Enriquez

I’m off traveling for a week, so I wanted to take this opportunity to revisit three “timeless” posts on broader innovation topics.  The second is about recognizing clever “delighters” and why something so little can actually mean quite a lot.



Lunchtime delighter!
May 29, 2009

I’m always on the lookout for delighters, which are unexpected little features you find in products and service that can really make your day.  They’re generally not widely advertised (ie “fastest processor in this price range of laptops!”) but are left to be discovered by a user who then goes on to spread the love and create buzz around the product (hence this blog post.)


I visited Lowes Foods for the first time to grab a quick sandwich, and I was delightfully surprised to find this handy bag, saving the typical deciphering of a deli counter that’s new to you: understanding the protocols, what’s available and at what price.  I checked off the boxes for the different ingredients I wanted.  Contrast this with the self-serve touchscreen at Jason’s Deli (or Wawa, for those from the northern part of the country.)  It reminds us that sometimes a good solution for 80% of the population can be simple, low-tech, and inexpensive.  AND it can help you carry your lunch.

Reverse Engineering a Fantasy Football draft party by Nheeda Enriquez

In honor of the NFL season kicking off this week, I highlight Scott Graf’s amusing story on WFAE about local bars that host groups who conduct their fantasy football drafts.  Though I’m not an active fantasy sports fan myself, I know plenty of people who are, and I’ve always found this market and the tons of products that target them fascinating.

I do, however, like to fantasize about the conversations that marketing and development groups have when they’re trying to decide whether or not to try something a little more innovative and counter to what’s commonly done.  Can you imagine what that Jetblue meeting was like when they were deciding if they should try its “All-you-can-Jet ” unlimited travel pass?

It probably wasn’t quite as hard to convince the management of Midtown Sundries or Hickory Tavern to create special packages for fantasy football leagues, it’s still fun to reverse engineer what they might have been thinking, and then use that to inspire other ideas.


Boy, what would the package for a celebrity funeral at an amusement park look like?

Yeah, but so what? Visualizing the impact by Nheeda Enriquez

I’m eternally advocating the use of good information design and visuals, and every time I see a good one, I take notice and tell everyone I know.  Especially if it translates what would have been hard to interpret data and answers the question: “Yeah, but so what?!” to make is useful.


This one by Dutch design firm Studio:ludens animates the amount of a good that is produced a second.  If I just read the facts verbally, they wouldn’t be as interesting, but showing us what that means in the context of something I am familiar with (in this case, time) then it comes alive.

Another example I saw some time back is a Microsoft commercial attacking the iPod for its Zunepass music subscription service.  Even though I’m a longtime Mac fan, this campaign actually got my attention by reframing a simple pain: it takes $30,000 to fill your iPod with songs.

When “knowing is half the battle” by Nheeda Enriquez

(In honor of the new GI Joe movie, I titled this post using a familiar line from the cartoon but it’s not in the film, nor does this have post anything to do with GI Joe.)

flickr photo cred: duncan

flickr photo cred: duncan

I love examples where presenting customized, relevant information at the right moment effectively changes consumer behavior.  The driver feedback sign must be a good one, since I know that it slows me down every. single. time.

Today I caught another example in a presentation by the accounting firm Deloitte on its Mass Career Customization program (the talk was organized through Engage Charlotte.)  MCC is a discussion tool their HR folks use to help employees talk through their individual career trajectories by adjusting specific levers, such as desired amounts of travel or desired workload.  Employees and managers get on the same page by working through a visualization of the tradeoffs.  Together they optimize goals, thereby affecting the firm’s and the individual’s choices.

Data dashboards are another way designers use information to encourage action.  When else did personalized in-context data drive my behavior today?

  • The distance display on the treadmill made me go a little bit further during my run.
  • Eat this-not that” articles make me think twice about that second donut.
  • Miscellaneous studies about the how visualizing energy use affects my conservation efforts.
  • I waited until the next block when I’d have more than one bar to make sure I didn’t drop a phone call.

Easy, Medium, Hard by Nheeda Enriquez

A very simple, yet so often overlooked framework that I use is Easy-Medium-Hard.  Sometimes it’s just a really quick way to organize information and ideas into digestible chunks, and placing them on a relative scale to one another.  Here’s a few ways that I’ve used it lately:

  • Sorting ideas and concepts Easy ideas that can be executed within a year; Hard ones take considerably longer.   One innovation professional in town talks about his innovation in meat temperatures: rare, medium, and well-done.
  • Brainstorming Asking yourself “how might we make _______ easy for our user?”  (ie, Learn how to play one song, cooking a meal for 8 people in under an hour, etc.)  How might we make it harder?   By thinking about it in extremes, we cover a wider range and stimulate broader thinking.
  • Feature sets Everyone approaches an interface or a new piece of software from a different skill level.  Rather than bombarding each person with everything under the sun, tailor the experience to suit the consumer/user’s familiarity.  Hide the rest to eliminate clutter (and make it available if it’s needed.)  A wonderful execution of this is Google’s “Become a Gmail Ninja” feature.
image via google

image via google