Microsoft has thousands of brilliant researchers, engineers and social scientists who are incredibly creative yet this high-tech company appears to an enormous failure on its hands—the new Windows 8 operating system. There is so much riding on this new OS—it is supposed to “update the personal computer for the tablet era by moving to a new touchscreeen interface based on colourful tiles…” according to the FT.
But people are finding it difficult to use. The familiar “Start” button is gone. The old desktop launch screen is hidden. And the new touchscreen isn’t captivating enough. So both old and new consumers are unhappy.
How could Microsoft spend so much time and money and produce a dud? I’m guessing it has something to do with what I call the “Gift Model of Design.” I’m giving a talk at Ziba in Portland on Thursday and this is what I am going to say
“The oldest Dogma of Design is the Gift Dogma. This model of innovation is the favorite of tech and consumer goods companies—most companies actually. It frames Design as a Gift from really smart people who invent cool stuff and throw it over the wall to consumers. Along the way, in flight, designers and marketers get a brief chance to “humanize” and “prettify” the technology. Maybe do a bit of focus group research at the back end. Then toss it onto the market and if people like it, great. If they don’t, oops.
Now I’ve had engineers and researchers say to me “people don’t know what they want until we give it to them.” And they have a point. Look at the biggest innovations of the past 30 years—Google, Amazon, Facebook, Twitter, ZipCar, Instagram, Match.com, Method, and most have come from young entrepreneurs who embody the values and knowledge of their generation. They succeed by mining the existential wants of their generation and give, as gifts, new products, services, experiences to members of their generation. The rest of us, not in their generation, can come along. Or not.
The gift model works OK when you know the person you are giving to, when you embody that person’s culture and values. But as Valentine’s Day shows us, even when you think you know the other person, your chances of success are not all that high. And when you give a gift to a stranger, the odds fall much further. Go outside what you yourself embody and you could be imposing your higher order wants on other people (SLIDE OF SOMEONE WEARING GOOGLE GLASSES). Look at Google Glass. She looks happy and great wearing Google Glass—but there are many people who may be thinking—-is she invading my privacy by taping my conversation without asking or is she sharing your image and words with unknown persons? The Gift Dogma can backfire. “
I’m guessing that the brilliant engineers at Microsoft didn’t immerse themselves enough in the culture of the company’s consumers to see what is truly meaningful to them. Or, if they or the army of social scientists at the company did, the key cultural information was not incorporated in the design of Windows 8.
I suggest a better model of design in my book, Creative Intelligence. Brands are simply the commodification of meaning. You have to understand what is deeply meaningful to consumers to create a successful product. That, apparently, didn’t happen with Windows 8.