While I was researching my book Why We Fail: Learning from Experience Design Failures I spent some time reading about people’s experience with RealNetworks, particularly the RealPlayer, and wondering if they were worthy of inclusion in the book, particularly the don’t be evil chapter. At that point there was no smoking gun, no hard evidence that Real intentionally did the wrong thing.
But this week a story was published which confirmed my suspicions. It’s called The Graph That Changed Me. Here’s an excerpt:
One day my manager showed me a horrible graph. It was pretty simple: the graph was steady, then it dropped straight down, then after a short period, the line shot straight back up and stayed level again:
Artist’s rendering of why you probably don’t like RealPlayer much
“That’s what happens when we do the right thing”, he said while pointing at the drop, “and that’s how much money we lose. We tried it just to see how bad it was for our bottom line. And this is what the data tells us.”
“Wow,” I said, taken aback. My employer clearly had two options: “do the right thing” or “be profitable”. That was the position they had maneuvered themselves into through a series of bad management decisions.
That “series of bad management decisions” may involve a slippery slope of subtle temptations and minor rationalizations, not one big bad decision to be evil. But having been there I know it’s all too easy to fall into the trap of binary thinking. You can hear it in that story:
two options: “do the right thing” or “be profitable”.
Design thinking is abductive, inventing new options to find new and better solutions to problems. In the universe of all possible businesses, were there more options than just “do the right thing” or “be profitable”? Of course. We just need to be willing to try harder, apply our creativity, and make “do the right thing and be profitable” two constraints of the design problem.
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Yes, Google Glass is “ugly and clunky and ridiculously expensive for what it does” and yes, it’s worrisome that Google employees rarely wear glass anymore. And that’s why Google is rocking this project.
For my book I researched why Google Wave failed (you can read the full case study on UXMag). Underneath the interaction design mess was a failure to follow their own process for research and development: not beta testing with customers, not having a trial period in Labs, not running the project with the expertise at headquarters, etc. (Google employees also stopped using Wave at some point, and then started mocking it).
A great way to illustrate all the things Google did wrong with Wave is to contrast it with Glass, another innovation project. In short, Wave got the process wrong, and Glass is getting the process right. Google is patiently following a research and development program, creating new technology, getting real-world feedback, and not releasing a product to the public before it’s ready. I talk about
failingexperimenting fast, and that’s what I see here.
Don’t be fooled by how Google is charging early adopters for Glass; it’s just a mechanism to filter out anyone who isn’t dedicated to the experiment. The real product hasn’t been launched yet, and my money is on the eventual project looking and acting very different than what we see today. Google is following a process that allows them to make mistakes, learn, and avoid failure.
I was lucky to have him as the cover designer of “Why We Fail” this year:
….To me, the most valuable part of the book comes toward the end. Instead of leaving these case studies to be interpreted by the reader, Lombardi puts his finger on the grand dichotomy that defines all successful tech leaders: the ability to simultaneously own the view of being the smartest guy in the room with the humility to accept that even the smartest person can be blinded by their experience and loyalties.
It’s a lesson that few leaders learn, and that ability to simultaneously respect two opposite points of view is not just the sign of a first rate intelligence (to paraphrase F. Scott Fitzgerald) but also the hallmark of a truly elite innovator.
They had some technical glitches at launch that grabbed the media’s attention, things like problems signing up and servers crashing from heavy loads seemingly caused by poor coordination between different developers who created the front-end and back-end.
Politics made the situation worse in the form of politically-delayed policy announcements, funds blocked by the House, and states that refused to set up exchanges.
The reason this is a big story is because there’s been huge demand for the site which could potentially serve 30 million uninsured Americans.
From my work I know sites like this don’t fail because of glitches at launch, and I think Healthcare.gov and the accompanying reforms have the potential to radically improve healthcare in America so as to make us forget a few early technical problems.
One of my colleagues recently joked–half-joked actually–that I wrote a great bathroom book. You can read a little at a time and not lose the plot.
That’s true! And if you have even less time here’s the speed-reading recommendation:
- Chapter 1: 17 pages
- Summary of each case study chapter: 10 pages
- Chapter 9: 9 pages (Only if you want to know more of the underlying, psychological reasons for customer experience failure)
- Chapter 10: 19 pages (Only if you want a new method to follow to incorporates the lessons in the book)
The entire book isn’t long, 232 pages, but you can get the gist in as little as 55 pages.
Michael Dila, an innovation consultant based in Toronto, was kind enough to write a review of my book on Amazon. I like that he astutely perceived it as belonging “to the new literature on improving entrepreneurial outcomes.” He then goes on to include me in company that’s probably above my pay grade, but I’ll take it 🙂
But my favorite phrase in his review is deeply empathetic economy. I worked hard to put a lot of valuable, practical information into a short book. Sometimes I would research and verify one fact for 30 minutes before writing a single sentence. After two years of that, I’m grateful the result was worth the effort!
Lars Damgaard was kind enough to review my book. Here’s an excerpt:
I just read a really good book about experience design. It’s called Why we fail and it’s written by Victor Lombardi. As the title says, the book asks the question of why some experience designs fails while others succeed.
A question like that could be answered in many ways and on many levels, but Victor balances empirical case studies with analysis in a clever and inspiring way.
Consequently, Why we fail is full of interesting case studies, all of which are relevant, well described and highly relevant for anyone who does experience design for a living.
At FailCon San Francisco 2013, founders take the stage and share their biggest mistakes, what they learned, and their advice for other founders. I’ll be speaking on research on product design and customer experience failures.You can get $50 off your ticket at http://ow.ly/pdZLS