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IDEO’s Extreme Customer Experiences

Posted by: Matthew Vella on April 21, 2008

IDEO’s Peter Coughlan closed today’s session with a great talk about “extreme” customer experiences that was at turns hilarious and serious. Coughlan’s basic premise is that designers can learn a lot by studying extreme users at either end of the spectrum, not just the “average” customer. In other words, if the realm of users’ experiences and uses of a product or service is a bell curve, there’s much to be gained by studying the outliers at both extremes.

Coughlan said IDEO had done this at one point when it was working with a maker of toothpaste. “We wanted to look at extreme oral care users, so we found people without out teeth,” he said, to laughs. “At the other end of the spectrum, there was a person who had seven types of toothpaste and used them at different times of days. It sounds extreme but yielded incredible insights about flavor, consistency, and so on.”

He then recounted two in-depth stories about a totally un-designed experience and one that was completely over-designed, both extreme examples that were instructive. This was a particularly interesting set of examples. A four hour, $2,500 hospital nightmare helped IDEO identify many of the common healthcare experience problems. “There was absolutely no thought about how a patient feels about going to this place,” said Coughlan. (The doctor later told him, “‘experience design,’ we don’t do that here.”)

And, on the other end of the spectrum, an over-designed, over-managed experience at a luxury hotel created an eerie rehearsed, robotic, scripted experience. Coughlan said this experience taught the firm to enable improvisation, creating less controlled experiences, and creating less controlled experience.



What comes next? The Bloomberg Businessweek Innovation and Design blog chronicles new tools for creativity and collaboration, innovation case studies in both the corporate and social sectors, and the new ideas that have the power to change the way things have always been done.

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