Great read on rethinking product design.

The inside story of Lenovo’s ThinkPad redesign.

“When you talk to end users about ports, they’ll tell you how much they need them. They’ll talk about the vast number of USB devices that they have. It’s easy to hear that and determine that you need five or more ports based on what these people report. When you watch these people work, however, and you’re more overt in your methods — you rarely see that happening. Sometimes, there’s a conflict between what someone reports they need and what they require.”

“The nature of this research — perhaps unlike some other research where you check a box for everything you need on a notebook — was much more about understanding users and their behavior,” said Proctor. “From there, we sought to telegraph those observations into design.”

This is why it’s important to actually watch how people are solving the problem today – observe things they don’t articulate verbally, match up potential solutions you’re aware of that they are not.

Dig this too:

Instead of just plopping a few paid participants down and asking them to fill out a form detailing their ideal laptop, the company “shadowed” individuals to see how they actually used a machine. Only a small segment of each group were genuine ThinkPad loyalists — the rest were early adopters of consumer technology, as well as those ardently opposed to selecting a ThinkPad as their primary machine. After all, one’s biggest opponent often provides the most truthful revelations.

Parrish described a familiar refrain when folks waltzed by one particular machine — a blissfully red ThinkPad. The initial response? Unanimously positive. Around 10 seconds later — practically without fail — each critic changed their tone. “This is pretty, but I couldn’t see myself actually owning it and using it on a daily basis.”

And on providing choice and flexibility to customers – specifically on trade offs between all day power and device thickness:

“We actually addressed that very topic in our study, and the feedback that we received was essentially the following: ‘If it’s my choice to add a thick and bulky case, that’s fine. If the device arrives thick and bulky, that’s not fine.'”

Making things better as a never ending process:

“It’s a little like editing a book — you never feel like you’re done,” she said. “But, of course, there are realities like schedules and roadmaps. We were very fortunate in this project to have started it early, so we didn’t have to rush through it. Along the way, we kept a close eye on how things were progressing — if something wasn’t up to par, we kept going.”

Social Killed The Reader Star

To succeed as a content producer or as a content consumption product, embracing and mastering social proof and sharing is critical. Ignore these forces at your peril. Google Reader wasnt the first to fall at the hands of social distribution nor will it be the last.

via Social Proof: The Most Formidable Force Driving Content | LinkedIn.

As an incessant user of Google Reader since its inception, I am disappointed to hear of its demise. So are a lot of other people. Who even use it for work, not just stupid/funny/cat pictures (also a significant use case for me).

From a product leadership perspective, former Google Reader product manager Brian Shih has an interesting post on Quora regarding this. So did creator Chris Wetherall.

I get Marco Arment’s thinking that this may ultimately be a good thing, providing new APIs and alternate means of content consumption. From a market demand perspective, if there’s a group of people whose needs are not being met, smart product people will create solutions for that.

I also get that curating content with a social layer has become preferable / more natural to most people – e.g. Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, Techmeme, etc.

That said, sometimes  you just want the uncensored goods and you don’t need or want the hive mind to parse it for you. That selection process is completely based on your interests and decisions, and to my understanding, we haven’t yet gotten a perfect external solution for that. Google Reader fit that need for me – content I’m interested in, deciding what is worth further attention within that.

Give the option to tune in or out of sources of information as they wish, and don’t tell people what they should be interested in if it’s not the same as everyone else or you’re not smart enough to nail it perfectly.

Maybe they’ll fold Google Reader into Google Glasses for Google Reading Glasses.