What I’ve Got

This week I have been thinking about problems in identifying design for desirability when you are unfamiliar with the target market. Something like an iPhone might be pretty universally desirable, while something designed for a particular interest might be hard to identify as desirable. I don’t know what makes a set of woodworking tools desirable or not, but some sell for more than others, so there must be a difference.
I thought of this after reading the sociology honors senior thesis of my friend Alisha Ramos ‘12 (read it here:  http://alisharamos.com/women-vc-funding/). She studies access by women entrepreneurs to venture capital. A large part of her research was based on interviews with female entrepreneurs and male and female venture capitalists. In the interviews of entrepreneurs, one story that was repeated several times stuck out to me. Entrepreneurs with a product oriented to women reported that the venture capitalists interviewing them often mentioned that they did not have a good intuitive sense of whether the product was desirable, and that they planned to ask their wives/girlfriends if they thought the product might take off. Unfamiliarity with target markets could be a costly error.
The second reason I have been thinking about difficulties in identifying products as desirable was a television commercial I saw. The advertisement was for the Olay Pro X cleansing system, a kind of mechanical exfoliation device (http://www.olay.com/skin-care-products/OlayPro-X/advanced-cleansing-system?pid=075609037047). The ad mentions that the product compared favorably to a $200 system sold in department stores. I wasn’t familiar with the product, so I had to look it up. The Clairisonic is a popular skin cleaning device (http://www.clarisonic.com/) . To be honest, it is not at all desirable to me. I don’t purchase high end beauty products or devices, and I don’t like clutter. I don’t even own a hair dryer, so I’m not the kind of person who buys a $200 device whose result can be approximated with a $2 sponge and some grit. But even without looking at sales figures, I can tell it’s a desirable product because there are multiple knock-offs (Neutrogena also has one.) One way to tell that a product is desirable is that is has knock-offs. Unfortunately, if you’re only figuring it out by then, it’s probably too late to take advantage of.

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