Wednesday, 10 May 2023

A Frustrated Sentence

After working with a variety of tools purporting to help define and develop new products, I can tell you I’m frustrated.

I’m frustrated by how difficult they are;

  • to use. Both ‘in the lab’ and ‘in the field’
  • to iterate on
  • to write from the customers’ perspective.

Even something as basic as the underlying need, whether articulated as a ‘customer pain’ or a ‘painkiller’ or a ‘need’ (vs. a ‘nice to have’) the final articulation is often too abstract and overarching to be understood by anyone other than the team that wrote it.

What’s needed is a clear, single sentence that can be memorized and repeated whenever anyone asks, “What are you working on?” or “What do you do?”.

Here is that sentence:

I help [customer segment] frustrated by how difficult it is to [specific activity].”

What’s great about this sentence – it works equally well whether you have an actual product or not. This means it’s well suite to the initial customer discovery process, incrementally getting more specific on both the customer segment and the specific activity as you become expert in the market.

Like so many of these tools, one way to test out their effectiveness is to try them out with known products. Here’s a couple off the top of my head, maybe you can guess who I’m referring to:

“I help parents with young children frustrated by how difficult it is to know their kids are watching age-appropriate content during discretionary screen time.

“I help small business owners frustrated by how difficult it is to integrate credit card processing into their online offerings.”

“I help software executives frustrated by how difficult it is to make products their customers will actually pay for.

Thursday, 18 May 2006

DoubleShot Coffee’s Single-Click Order Dashboard Widget

Yesterday, I came across the DoubleShot Coffee Order Widget.

DoubleShot Coffee, the same Tulsa, OK folks on the receiving end of a trademark infringement claim by Starbucks, just made one giant leap for ecommerce.

Simplicity and Persistence.

After setting up credit card information on the widget’s backside, select one of their 18 coffees from the front and click ‘Order’.

Need more? Do it again.

Best of all, I don’t need to remember their url, bookmark their site, or remember anything. When I want coffee – I hit F12.

That’s how you build highly-passionate and caffeinated customers.

Thanks Brian.

Friday, 23 December 2005

Wednesday, 3 August 2005

Software Distribution History: Shrinkwrap to Download to Appcasting

NetNewsWire, my preferred RSS reader, isn’t particular about the file type within a given podcast. Audio (podcasting), video (videoblogging), images, pdfs (like 101sheets), torrents, or even applications (appcasting?).

As you can tell from the appcasting link, Fraser Speirs was the first I knew of using an RSS feed to distribute his excellent iPhoto Flickr plugin. More recently, the new version of Coding Monkeys’ SubEthaEdit came through their News feed.

Brilliant, this makes RSS 2.0 is the universal format for distributing updates of anything. Ultimately, I’d like to see the SubEthaEdit feed integrated into SubEthaEdit, same for all my other apps. Then we can get rid of those ever awkwardly implemented ‘Check for New Version’ menu items.

Bonus link, WP-GotLucky, another WordPress plugin I spun together, turns Google referral queries into an RSS feed. Making search engine performance more real-time and more visible than my server log analysis program supports.

Monday, 20 June 2005

Theres Always More Than One Way

“Don’t ever allow yourself to believe that there is only one way to make ideas real.” – Scott Berkun

Stated more traditionally, “there’s more than one way to skin a cat.”

The great thing about roadblocks is they force an evaluation of goals.

For example, you’d like to publish a book and are continually rejected by publishers. Is is that you want to have a physical book on Barnes & Noble’s shelves or that you want to share your ideas with the world?

One answer says mold yourself to what publishers want and wait for them to like you. The other says start a blog over lunch.

Tuesday, 5 April 2005

Kayak and PinPoint Changing the Face of Online Travel

A couple years back, I helped redesign their shopping process. During that time, if you wanted to book travel the major players were Expedia and Travelocity, with Orbitz aiming to be the more usable, better-looking alternative.

Today, those three players are equally mature and equally less than compelling. They don’t capture all airlines and have yet to offer the recreational traveler’s dream: give me the cheapest flight to Brussels, anytime, any day, in the next 1, 3, and 6 months.

Enter Think of it as Froogle for travel. Just the bare-minimum needed to start a travel search. If you want something a little sexier, check out Pinpoint Travel. Pinpoint uses Kayak’s engine and leverages the new AJAX web application model making a very interesting and helpful interface – like Google Suggests. Also, by asking me questions about my personal preferences, Pinpoint does an excellent job of keeping me engaged while it’s searching.

On the downside, AJAX relies heavily on Javascript so Pinpoint isn’t accessible and for some odd reason neither is Kayak.

Monday, 4 April 2005

More Gets You to Better

As I mentioned in my interview at, I had an art professor who believed everyone had 5,000 bad drawings in them. Five thousand drawings bad drawings before the good ones could come out.

This perspective is re-iterated in Throw More Pots over at Crossroads Dispatches.

In this same token, I’m a firm believer every organization needs a playground, a skunkworks, a sandbox. Whatever it’s called, it’s a mentality where people can develop a million small ideas to find the ones that work. Whether drawings or pots or business models.

With the relative low cost of website development, in comparison to traditional television marketing, there’s a huge opportunity to try a million different small (potentially better) campaigns and cumulatively get the same return – if not a greater return.

Wednesday, 1 December 2004

Care and Feeding of Your Harshest Critics

Marqui is paying people to test drive and blog about their content management system.

From Marc Canter on the origins of the idea:

When I first came up with the idea – the question was poised “what if they blog something negative?”

My answer was “that’s a good thing! Can you imagine how powerful it will be for us to listen to and react to that criticism and show that we responded in a timely manner by actually fixing the problems?”

That’ll be worth its weight on gold.

Exactly. People are going to criticize your company’s offerings whether you allows them to or not. By listening to your harshest critics – i.e. most passionate customers – you’ll learn more about what the world expects from you.

I’ll be tracking the Marqui program.

On a related note, we launched the MNteractive Directory earlier this week. The MNteractive Directory is a wiki containing the Minnesota’s interactive design talent.

Wikis, by their very nature, are editable by anyone. Like Cantor, one of the first questions poised was, “What if someone changes something of mine?”

My response is two-fold:

  1. Everything is backed up, so an unnecessary change can be easily reverted.
  2. It’s your responsibility to not put up information that needs to be changed and not change things unnecessarily.

The world is becoming more and more transparent. Therefore we are need to be more responsible and open to criticism and praise. For that is the order – 1. criticism 2. praise.

Sunday, 3 October 2004

Once More, In Half the Time

I apologize for the length of this letter, but I didn’t have time to make it shorter. – Mark Twain

Twain was referring to the fact that refining something down to it’s essence takes iteration. Each iteration abbreviates the time necessary to produce and consume the item. I offer the Van Buren Law of Iteration:

t^n = (t^(n-1)) / 2


t = time for a given task
n = the iteration

I’ve written about the similarity between collaborative work and Improvisational Comedy before (Stop Asking Questions, Yes, and – not But, Want Better Collaboration Improvise). In this installment, I’d like to discuss the the Improv training game Scene Replay.

  1. Start a scene.
  2. Improvise for about 3 minutes.
  3. Replay entire the scene in half the previous time.

With each successive repetition, more of the uninteresting bits are automatically edited out and the scene becomes more engaging and entertaining. The first attempt takes the longest because those involved are discovering what needs to happen. After the third and fourth attempts, everyone knows what works, where the engaging parts are and the transitions between them. The same procedure works for any type of knowledge work.

Think of a small work-related disaster, an unsaved file getting corrupted – and becoming unsuable, for example. Revising the document again, will take far less time than originally because you know exactly which changes to make. You can cut out all the unsuccessful bits – getting to the good stuff, making it better, and getting done more quickly. The thinking parts are done – it’s all about execution now.

How do you implement the Van Buren Law of Iteration?
A quick way is the following exercise:

  1. Take 5 minutes to tell a good – patient – friend a story.
  2. After you’ve completed the story – tell it to them in 2.5 minutes.
  3. Repeat until you can tell the entire story in a single sentence.

The Smoke in Need of a Fire-Breathing Dragon

“This sounds like part of an idea. It’s the smoke, and we still need a fire-breathing dragon.”

This statement was exclaimed by one of the students I’m working with in my involvement with MCAD‘s Visualization program.

I was leading the team through a ideation evaluation exercise – culling down their large number of brainstormed concepts down to a smaller, more defined, more viable, more actionable list. Some of the concepts in the more than 70 item list were thrown out immediately. Others we pondered for awhile to determining if something was there we could use later.

Many ideas are just that – smoke in need of a dragon. Smaller ideas that compliment and polish larger more powerful ideas – though they aren’t strong enough to support themselves. Just like the smoke without the fire-breathing dragon.

The stereotypical dot-com example of this is selling pet food online. Selling pet food is the smoke to selling food online which is the smoke to selling anything online. As we’ve seen, to survive and succeed businesses and the workers they employ need big Fire-breathing Dragon ideas. Smoke ideas can only augment and compliment – they can’t sustain.

UPDATE 24 March 2006: J Wynia is on a similar track with Searching for Werewolves