By: Tom Ewing, Senior Director, System1 Group
“First I look at the purse” sang Motown’s The Countours. Kelley Styring, principal of InsightFarm, would sympathise. In 2006, then again in 2016, she asked hundreds of women to empty out their purses in the name of science. Her project, “an archaeology of the American handbag”, explores the meaning both personal and practical of purses – and, er, ‘murses’, since men are carrying them too: one of the big shifts between waves of the study. (The men themselves might prefer the term ‘satchels’.)
Between them, the purse-carrying women and men of America are toting an astonishing 271 million bags: “homes away from home” which are a remarkable commercial opportunity for any company making things that might find their way into them. But this opportunity is poorly understood, and manufacturers of both purses and purse contents are failing their customers, according to Styring. The interior of a purse is an extremely hostile environment, halfway between a tumble-dryer and a lucky dip, and the lipsticks, coupons, receipts, and headphone cords which find their way in are prone to gradually degrade into either trash or “digital hairballs”. The purse is both beautifully practical – a little bag you can carry your life’s essentials in – and desperately unwieldy during the precious seconds when you’re trying to get something out of it.
Styring’s entertaining presentation married survey research and ethnography to explore not just what’s in America’s purses (1 in 10 contains a weapon, though the main categories are money, cards, phones, personal care, and keys) but what they mean. She explored the Circle of Preparedness – the way the contents of a purse enable its carrier to be ready to help herself, her family, her friends and often complete strangers who need a band-aid, a pen, or a light. The purse is an entry point into adulthood for women in their early teens for whom it becomes a mobile resource for their newfound independence, carrying money, phones and sanitary items. Gain entry to a purse in these formative years and categories and brands can make a customer for life.
But the purse is also a kind of limbo, into which items are placed and forgotten: one woman Styring surveyed turned out to be carrying 17 different pens, mostly promotional ones liberated from stores and banks. Unwanted receipts, degraded tissues, and forgotten gewgaws fight for space with genuine essentials. And into this behavioural melting pot, an unexpected interloper has found its way between 2006 and now: the smartphone.
Behaviours around smartphones both complement and duplicate behaviours around purses. Both are connectors – bridges between home (where needs are made) and the store (where needs are satisfied). Both are also ways of organising and making portable one’s everyday life – the purse content categories which dropped off between ways are things like coupons, which are increasingly being replaced by e-commerce and m-commerce offers. Despite this, the weight and the number of items in purses remained constant over the last decade – for every obsolete category, some new item comes to take their place.
Smartphones and purses may overlap in function, but purses are also where you put your phone. This integration between digital order and physical mess is where Strying sees some of the billions of dollars of innovation potential in the world of the purse. What will smart purses look like – ones that respond to being opened with useful information, or which establish a cone of RFID silence to protect their bearer? There are also plenty of purely physical problems still to solve – there must be a way of designing purse contents for the dangerous environments they are placed in.
Styring’s presentation was a delight –rich in insights and stories: her firm InsightFarm has published a book detailing the results of the second wave. You came away feeling that her study was rather like a purse itself: elegantly designed, compact, and full of both useful stuff and unexpected surprises.
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Facing especially wicked problems, social sector organizations are searching for powerful new methods to understand and address them. Design Thinking for the Greater Good goes in depth on both the how of using new tools and the why. As a way to reframe problems, ideate solutions, and iterate toward better answers, design thinking is already well established in the commercial world. Through ten stories of struggles and successes in fields such as health care, education, agriculture, transportation, social services, and security, the authors show how collaborative creativity can shake up even the most entrenched bureaucracies—and provide a practical roadmap for readers to implement these tools.
The design thinkers Jeanne Liedtka, Randy Salzman, and Daisy Azer explore how design thinking helped impoverished farmers adopt new practices in Mexico, kept at-risk California teenagers in school, reduced the frequency of mental health emergencies in Australia, and helped manufacturers and government regulators in Washington find common ground on medical device standards. Across these vastly different problems and sectors, these groups have used the tools of design thinking to reduce risk, manage change, use resources more effectively, bridge the communication gap between parties, and manage the competing demands of diverse stakeholders. Along the way, they have improved the quality of their products and enhanced the experiences of those they serve.
With strategies accessible to analytical and creative types alike, and benefits extending throughout an organization, Design Thinking for the Greater Good will help today's leaders and thinkers implement these practices in their own pursuit of creative solutions that are both innovative and achievable.
Jeanne Liedtka is a professor at the Darden Graduate School of Business Administration at the University of Virginia. Her books include Solving Problems with Design Thinking (2013), Designing for Growth (2011), and The Designing for Growth Field Book (2013), all from Columbia University Press.
Randy Salzman is a journalist and former communications professor. His work has been published in over one hundred magazines, journals, and newspapers, from the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times to Mother Jones, Bicycling, and Style.
Daisy Azer is an entrepreneur, principal at Waterbrand Consulting Inc., and adjunct lecturer of design thinking at the Darden Graduate School of Business. Her career spans roles in business development and training and development in the financial industry, education, and technology.
The rush to put new technology in the home is heating up like never before. Challengers include Amazon (Echo), Google (Home), and soon we'll have Apple's Siri device. Microsoft can't be far behind.
Now here's a completely different take on home technology, and it's a perfect example of the Task Unification Technique, one of five in the S.I.T. innovation method. Task Unification is defined as: assigning an additional task to an existing resource. That resource should be in the immediate vicinity of the problem, or what we call The Closed World. In essence, it's taking something that is already around you and giving an additional job. The new LG Hom-Bot robotic vacuum does just that. Here's a report from Architectural Digest:
Looking to buy a security system for your home? Consider a vacuum.
LG's newest Hom-Bot robotic vacuum, available this month, merges cleaning and home security into one smartphone-controlled system.
In addition to sweeping up dust and crumbs, the Hom-Bot has front and top-facing cameras that can be accessed through its app at any time. In a true representation of the "smart" vacuum, once it's become accustomed to your home, the Hom-Bot will also automatically snap photos and message them to you if it detects movement in an area of the home or at a time of the day when activity is unusual.
A square-ish rather than rounded shape allows it to edge into tighter corners, and its cameras not only act as a safety measure but also help it more accurately map the room to achieve an efficient cleaning route. Its final feature is a sure appeal to a millennial audience: The vacuum is a rose-hued shade of "metallic gold."
LG's Hom-Bot Turbo+ costs $999 but additional models without cameras retail for $799 and $699.
To get the most out of the Task Unification technique, you follow five basic steps:
- List all of the components, both internal and external, that are part of the Closed World of the product, service, or process.
- Select a component from the list. Assign it an additional task, using one of three methods:
- Choose an external component and use it to perform a task that the product accomplishes already
- Choose an internal component and make it do something new or extra
- Choose an internal component and make it perform the function of an external component, effectively “stealing” the external component’s function
- Visualize the new (or changed) products or services.
- What are the potential benefits, markets, and values? Who would want this, and why would they find it valuable? If you are trying to solve a specific problem, how can it help address that particular challenge?
- If you decide the new product or service is valuable, then ask: Is it feasible? Can you actually create these new products? Perform these new services? Why or why not? Is there any way to refine or adapt the idea to make it viable?