Psychology and the consumer experience
"This coffee cup was handled by many people," says Leon Segal, owner of Innovation Psychologist consulting services, as he sips an Arcaffe cappuccino. "I am drinking from the cup; the waiter brought it to me; the bartender held it while preparing the coffee and a shop assistant placed it on a store shelf to draw in customers."
"In the past five years," Segal continues, "companies have become more open to the concept that product design must take into account all of the users of the product. The more a company identifies these users, the greater the chances of meeting more people's needs and desires when they enter a store in search of a product."
Segal has worked in the field of design for several years. He first became acquainted with designing while serving as a pilot in the Israel Air Force; he helped introduce changes in the cockpits of cobra helicopters that were sold to Israel. His military experience led him to a job in helicopter design, but one moment before he became "a big expert in a narrow field," as he defines it, he went to the United States to study cognitive psychology, thanks to a scholarship from America's National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).
After working at NASA for three years as a human engineering researcher, Segal discovered IDEO Design.
"That was in the early 1990s, when Silicon Valley was burgeoning," recalls Segal, who spent the next five years spearheading experience-guided innovations. "The idea was to start the product creation process with innovations based on a deep understanding of users' needs. Customers know what they want. Needs are deeper than desires, and can be deduced using the correct analysis."
Return to Israel
However, Segal also missed Israel, and therefore approached IDEO founder and CEO David Kelley with the idea of establishing a branch of the company in Israel. Kelley agreed, and in 1998 IDEO Israel was founded as a partnership between Segal, Alex Padwa (now the head of product design at Shenkar College of Engineering and Design), and Dr. Yagil Weinberg. The company grew, at one point employing 12 designers, including such Israeli designers as Ezri Tarazi and Elisha Tal. In 2001, however, the office closed.
"The partnership was not working out," explains Segal, who has been working on independently ever since.
Segal's initial difficulties in Israel stemmed from the market's state of readiness to embrace innovations. Today this term is an inseparable part of any new product, but in 1998 it seemed to be an idea ahead of its time.
"Considerable time was spent educating potential clients," recalls Segal. "Every sales meeting turned into a 'what is innovation' presentation. Even today it is sometimes difficult to explain the concept. Israeli companies have a great deal of creativity, but many of them invest in short-term, focused projects, and not in processes."
Segal supervised an exemplary innovation process during his work on a futuristic telephone with the Swedish company, 3, managed by Momo Liran. The project sought to anticipate users' needs of a cellular telephone that could also send and receive photos and video clips.
The elements of design
"The telephone of the future focuses on the emotional need for connection," explains Segal. "A phone is a communication device. The richer the communication content, the more connected we feel to people. Short messages (SMS), for example, allow us not only to communicate for less than the cost of a phone call and in a different fashion, but also enable us to save the message, after the conversation is over. The ability to save clips from video phone calls, as well as ringtones and music, meets the deep human need for communication."
The two major aspects of design are aesthetics and functionality. "Aesthetics makes a device more desirable," explains Segal, "while functionality makes it more efficient than its predecessor."
Still, this division is not always absolute, as sometimes a product's efficiency makes it desirable.
"Every new product must create a feeling of greater usefulness for the user and in order to be desirable, it must elicit an emotional response from the user," continues Segal.
This response makes the user want the product, even if he has a perfectly serviceable equivalent at home.
"The most important thing is adapting the product to its intended market," adds Segal. "Some products are launched at the wrong time, and fail. New products must be compatible with products already owned by potential customers."
Another secret to success is finding the balance between functionality and efficiency. With laptop computers, for example, manufacturers looked to screen size and weight to give their products a competitive edge. Once the limits of these parameters were reached, focus shifted to the most convenient location for the USB port, for example, or the functionality of the fan in keeping the computer cool.