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.”

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