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Want to create winning designs ? Speak to the Screaming Child

Last month we were in a discussion with a small group of senior executives for a financial services organisation. The reason why we had all met up was to discuss the issues being faced by the flagship product being launched by this organisation. Essentially, the organisation had spent several months of time, effort and money to develop a product that they believed would address a very specific need in the market, but once they launched it, they realised that no one actually wanted to use it. The existing customers, within the target group, were the ones who were reverting back to the existing product upto 90% of the times. 

Positive Cognitive Bias 

As we discussed the problem a bit further, it became apparent that the product team had spent considerable amount of time in speaking to their customers and were meeting them every few months to gain feedback on the new features being developed, but the adoption still remained low. 
After the discussion, it became apparent that one of the key factors in the disconnect between the research and the real customer expectation was not so much about the kind of information that was being collected, rather from whom the information was being collected from. 

This is actually not as uncommon as it would seem. Unless you use a mass research methodology, a lot of the face to face feedback is typically chosen from the focus group are people who are already emotionally invested in the idea. Such "champions" are essentially advocates of the projects and are prone to Positive Cognitive Bias. In simple terms, they believe that the new product or idea is needed and will work and hence inherently contribute towards making it work. 

This doesn't really mean that feedback received from such groups is all positive and there can't be any material innovation achieved based on that information. However, it is noted, that for really meaningful insights that lead to radically improved products, it's the opinion of the detractors that is much more valuable.

The Screaming Child and Innovation

Before we go ahead, let us re-visit the famous story of Doug Dietz and his exploits with designing the most user friendly MRI and CT scan machine. While the story is well known, and is often cited in any discussions around using Design Thinking as a process for innovation, the part that I find most intriguing is the trigger for his journey. According to the legend (can we call it that ?) the first time that Doug felt he needed to fundamentally change the way the product was designed is when he saw a young child scream in absolute terror on being shown the CT scan device for which Doug won a design award. This "screaming child" is analogous to the detractors and disgruntled customers in any project and are often the source of the most non-obvious insights. Doug, obviously chose to focus on this particular feedback from an end-user which led to him designing the "Adventure Series" for CT Scans which not only proved to be hugely successful, but also became an industry case study on frugal innovation and design thinking.

In many cases, the focus is on not being constrained by the past and focussing only on the future. However, an overly optimistic view of the future can often lead to a design blind spot that may jeopardise the outcome that we intend to achieve. I must also add a word of caution, that listening to too many detractors may create too much negativity and that may derail any creative ideas. So, as with most things in life, moderation is well advised.

So What ?

So what does that mean to any of us that are involved in designing products, solutions and ideas that would provide organisations significant competitive advantage? Well, it means that we need to open our minds to all kinds of feedback and not just the positive feedback. In addition to that, we need to spend time and energy in understanding what is it that hasn't worked in the existing solutions and products. 

Listening to the screaming child, in whatever form they appear, will not only help us understand the real problem, but also will help us design products and solutions that will resonate with our users.

Note: The ideas expressed in this blog post are entirely personal. The organisation may not necessarily endorse them in part or full. I can be reached at

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