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Innovate with a User-centric Mentality

This post comes from Creative Difference, a tool created by IDEO to help organizations understand and develop their creative edge. Informed by a short assessment, Creative Difference generates a fully customized dashboard to help business leaders better understand their company’s specific strengths and blindspots when it comes to adapting to a rapidly changing market.

Observing and listening to consumers in their natural environments—where they eat, sleep, work, play and shop—can generate a bounty of innovative inspirations that are nearly impossible to discover without leaving the corporate campus. Surveys aren’t enough. Gain powerful insights about your customers’ motivations, needs and desires, by engaging with them in their own worlds.

Companies who do this well have a strong sense of who their customer is, what’s happening in their market, and what major trends (technical, or social) might be leveraged towards the organization’s goals—these insights will lead to groundbreaking innovations.  

 

Surveys aren’t enough.

 

Who does this well?

With 400 stores in Japan, and another 300 locations internationally, housewares brand Muji shows no signs of slowing its impressive rate of expansion. Muji's success is greatly due to their use of on-the-ground research in people's homes to detect subtle challenges in everyday home life and inspire new design solutions.

For example, the company was developing a new line of refillable dispensers for shampoo, soap, and lotion. Design researchers visited many homes and found that messy bathrooms were the norm. President Asako Shimazaki noted, "The reasons why our bathrooms are so complicated and messy is because all of these brands want to promote their own product by making it very colorful and desirable—everyone has a priority to stand out." Muji realized that consumers wanted to reduce visual clutter; they wanted to make their bathrooms look neat while still using preferred products. So, Muji carefully developed a popular line of refillable dispensers that are neutral in their design.

 

“Gain powerful insights about your customers’ motivations, needs and desires, by engaging with them in their own worlds.”

 

Muji realized that consumers wanted to reduce visual clutter; they wanted to make their bathrooms look neat while still using preferred products. So, Muji carefully developed a popular line of refillable dispensers that are neutral in their design.

With their "no brand" ethos and strong understanding of their customer, Muji continues to grow, opening its 10th store in the United States in Palo Alto this summer. "In Silicon Valley, there are many design conscious people and many people who understand the philosophy of Muji," Shimazaki says. For a company that doesn't advertise, proximity to customers who want and seek out these products is key to growth.


Learn IDEO's methods to generating powerful insights in our upcoming Insights for Innovation course.

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