How do you sell coffee? For Blue Bottle Coffee, that meant speaking the language of their customers and getting inside their heads.

source: Blue Bottle Coffee


Blue Bottle Coffee’s Website

The company had been arranging the coffee on their website based on where it was grown. And while this made sense to the team (a group of coffee connoisseurs), it was confusing for their customers. With the work of a design team from Google Ventures, they went into the field to research this and found customers were reluctant to divulge their simple approach to coffee selection. So the design researchers turned to the baristas.

The baristas knew first hand how to help customers pick the right coffee to take home: based on how they brewed it. “French press? Chemex? Auto drip? Here’s what I recommend.”

This small change helped double their online sales growth, according to Jake Knapp, Partner at Google Ventures

Your Savings Account

Sometimes people aren’t great at saving for the future.

Bank of America hired IDEO, a human-centered design firm in 2006 to find a way to get people to open more accounts with their bank.

“For the next two months, a team of five BofA researchers and four researchers from a West Coast consulting firm visited Atlanta, Baltimore, and San Francisco. They observed a dozen families and interviewed people on the streets. They watched people at home as they paid and balanced their checkbooks. They tagged along with mothers as they shopped at Costco, dined at Johnny Rockets, and made deposits in drive-through tellers” (Bloomberg).

Since launch, “Keep the Change” has led to more than 12 million new customers and more than $3.1 billion in savings for them.

It’s Getting Hot in Here


Just heard this story from Tim Brown (CEO of IDEO) during a talk he gave at Michigan on Design Thinking.

In Japan, as the Kyoto-Protocol treaty was just being signed, they wanted to proactively lower their energy use. “What are some simple behavioral changes we can make to help lower our carbon footprint?” “How can we get ordinary citizens involved?”

The creative agency hired had identified the temperature of the air conditioning systems in office buildings as being set particularly low during the summer. The reason it was set so low is because Japanese business men insist on wearing formal suits and ties all year round.

The agency reasoned, “if we can convince business men to not wear ties, we’ll be able to reduce the air conditioning systems’ use of energy and therefore our carbon footprint.”

Going ahead, they convinced all the best known Japanese fashion designers to design summer casual clothing. Then, they got the CEOs of all the major corporations in Japan to model the clothes. Because “creating permission” is an important component of Japanese culture (key cultural insight!) they created “cool biz” badges that employees were allowed to wear that gave them permission to wear these new style of clothes.

That year, the campaign estimated a 460,000-ton reduction in CO2 emissions. The following year, 2006, an estimation 1.14 million-ton reduction in CO2 emissions were achieved.


We Need More Elevators

ElevatorsThere once was a company that had hundreds of employees in a very tall building. As the company grew, wait times for the elevators did too.

Wait times became so long, that employees starting complaining. “I’m having to wait almost three full minutes everyday!”

The senior executives convened to devise a solution to get the wait times down. The lead engineer said it would be feasible to add another elevator, reducing the wait time down to just a few seconds.

Then the behavioral psychologist proposed something rather creative, and reframed the problem. It wasn’t a matter of wait time, but of perceived wait time.

The company ultimately added mirrors throughout the lobby, allowing patrons to look at themselves and those around them inconspicuously. Complaints were reduced and the company didn’t have to spend an exorbitant amount constructing a new elevator shaft.

Sometimes by better understanding people, we can better devise solutions to their problems.

Designing Beyond The User’s Capability


(from Adaptive Path’s book) There once was a Software Company that wanted to make a video-editing product for Microsoft users in the late 90’s. Traditional quantitative market research techniques revealed there was a significant business opportunity to connect digital video owners with their computers.

User research revealed only 1/12 of the studied participants had been able to connect his camera to his computer, and had relied on the IT guy at work to set it up for him.

Deciding not to ahead with development, the Software Company put the project aside, potentially saving a considerable investment of time and money.

However, having designed a system to handle this entire process could have been a big success. Perhaps it was beyond the capabilities of the Software Company, but a system like the ipod>itunes could have built a competitive barrier to entry with a proprietary product/service combination.