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

Charlotte gets a massive dose of design thinking in April by Nheeda Enriquez

photo via sirconferences

I wanted to quickly highlight a handful of design+innovation events in the Queen City before they sneak up on us!  Who knew we were such a hotbed?!

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.

A quick visit to a recent past: Part 1 by Nheeda Enriquez
September 23, 2009, 4:28 pm
Filed under: design research, empathy | Tags: , , , , ,

I’m off traveling for a week, so I wanted to take this opportunity to revisit three “timeless” posts on broader innovation topics.  The first is about the importance of empathy in user-centered design.



Feeling your pain: the role of empathy
June 1, 2009

There’s lots of talk of the word “empathy” right now, whether it’s the selection of a new Supreme Court justice or, in the design + business circles, the release of the book, Wired to Care, by Dev Patnaik.  Empathy is an important tool in a design researcher’s toolkit, as it forces you to see a situation from someone else’s point of view (your users, your co-workers, your suppliers.)  Immersion was one of the phases of our Innovation process at Wachovia, and we never failed to see something new each time we went out into the field to walk in the steps of our customers.

This past weekend, I brought that approach home as I found myself quickly losing patience with my boyfriend.  Brian broke his hand about a week ago, and I began to get irritated with tying his shoes or waiting for him to put his wallet away or attach the leash on the dog.  So for two hours, I borrowed his extra brace and sling and carried about my morning.  Not only had I taken the second hand for granted, I sure did realize how unsympathetic I had been.  Washing a pan or fixing my hair was a nightmare!

We’re always talking about putting customers first.  Sometimes it just takes a serving of our own medicine to remind us what that really means.  And then seeing the opportunities within those moments to inspire the next big idea.  Perhaps that one-armed dog collar is not a niche product after all.

It doesn’t take much to try it.  Here’s a lovely primer on ethnography.

Consumer-centric innovation never stops at Carolina Pad by Nheeda Enriquez

flickr photo credit karen_d

I recently met up with marketing gurus April Whitlock and Kathryn Thompson of Carolina Pad to see how this local producer of uber-cool school supplies stays on top of its game.

Carolina Pad’s impressive turnaround a few years ago is well documented, when they managed to reinvent a commodity business. Today, they continue to delight and engage their customers in new and interesting ways.

They’ve been soliciting new product ideas via Edison Nation and offering royalties on the winning entries.  (Hurry! The deadline’s been extended through Wednesday the 16th.) They’ve also done some clever things on twitter, facebook, and mom blogs, including  inviting users to send photos of their desks so they can see how their products hold up in the real world.

Most notably, they recently launched an eco-friendly line of notebooks called Sasquatch which allows them to extend their social stewardship, understanding that their most loyal fans have more personal connection with the things that they own.  They’ve even  established a non-profit for their popular kendall kollection, whose proceeds go towards leukemia research.

(I found the photo above in a flickr pool called “what’s in your bag?” where users document their belongings and why they’re in there.  This particular user had one of Carolina Pad’s Hot Chocolate notebooks.  I’ve used it as free market research.)

Professional development at a bargain price: Triad Design Leadershop by Nheeda Enriquez

leadershopI recently learned about an impressive series of workshops in nearby Greensboro at NC A&T State.  The workshops take place over 5 weeks and is $500 for the lot, but even if you can’t make every single one, the free keynote addresses each week might prove to be worth the drive for anyone looking to inject a little design thinking into their everyday business strategies.

According to the website, The Triad Design Leadershop is “a transformative series of lectures and workshops based around best practices for the design and business communities.”

Perhaps the biggest name in the bunch is Claudia Kotchka, who was cruicial in helping AG Lafley and the folks at P&G execute their big turnaround through innovation and design.

If anyone’s interested in carpooling…

Dunkin’ Donuts: I knew what they were doing and I STILL fell for it by Nheeda Enriquez

ddphotoYou would think that since I’m in marketing and product development, I’d be immune to impulse buys.  But on a recent road trip, I stopped at my local Dunkin’ Donuts and STILL could not resist this cup of Munchkins strategically placed next to the register.  Here’s why I am a sucker:

1.  Although I consider myself somewhat Green, I compromised my values: convenience over sustainability.  I offset the guilt by rationalizing, “Oh, I can recycle this packaging.”

2.  The math is all wrong:  Four Munchkins in a cup = $1.00.  Single jelly donut = $0.89, and more filling.  I paid a premium to make myself feel like I wasn’t eating unhealthy.

The lesson:  Sometimes understanding a customer’s complex decision-making process gives you the tools to make them behave in strange ways.  And the most remarkable part is that this “innovation” probably cost practically nothing to develop; Dunkin Donuts recombined products they already had.

The experience also reminded me of a fun story I came across: The making of Dunkin’ Run.  It’s a quick look at how Hill Holiday brought this nifty service from concept to reality.  Dunkin’ Donuts even launched a mobile app to extend the platform.

Bank of America looks to prototype the future by Nheeda Enriquez

bofa_branchI recently posted about Bank of America and its innovation activities and I’m about to do it again.  One reason is because I’m a long-time customer and I’m intimately familiar with their products, and another is because I’ve was an innovation consultant for the other bank in town and I can’t legally write about those.

BofA’s got an interesting (and public) relationship with MIT’s Media Lab called the Center for Future Banking where they can experiment with the shape of banking as we are yet to know it.

On a recommendation by David Phillips, a Senior Designer on BofA’s Innovation Enablement Team, I took a stroll over to a special BofA branch over at the Epicenter in Uptown where two Microsoft Surface units are installed.  Phillips mentioned how their development teams ultimately hope to use them to prototype interfaces and mini applications.  In fact, the entire branch is meant to be a test lab of sorts, allowing the bank to test different service concepts within a real-life space.  I even saw Xit poll stations (photo inset) to collect data about your experience.

There’s another Surface installation in a branch in Bryant Park in NYC.  Catch a video of the action here.