Irene Ng: Designing New Consumer Experiences in the Era of IoT


Value-as-experience is an insight from Austrian economics. Value is not inherent in objects or even in services. Value is not derived from functional use, but is the good feeling the consumer experiences during consumption. Consistent with the Austrian understanding of the market as a process, value is a process. It plays out in time in the consumer’s mind. Consumers learn what is valuable to them in the process of choosing and consuming and evaluating.

These insights add some under-appreciated marketing considerations to a firm’s capabilities, such as an appreciation of situational traits and of the importance of context. Irene Ng provides the E4B podcast audience with a set of contemporary tools to design new experiences and even create new markets in the era of the “Internet of Things” (IoT).

Key Takeaways and Actionable Insights.

To design experiences, start by thinking in terms of ecosystems.

Ecosystem thinking pays attention to how knowledge, people, technology, processes and the environment are connected and work together. Systems awareness is becoming wider and wider, observing the interaction and value creation among multiple service systems. Consumers’ value experience occurs within a service system, and thus the service ecosystem worldview is increasingly important for entrepreneurs in an ever more connected, digital and data-driven world.

The subjectivist viewpoint is fundamental to designing consumer experiences.

We are taught from the youngest age to have an object view of the world. We describe situations using nouns: for example, in a room, there is a chair and a piano. Meaning and purpose are identified via the nouns we use. Economics shares some of this noun-based view of the world: assets, knowledge, material things, property.

For the design of consumer experiences, verbs are more relevant, not just as descriptions but as connections between objects and people and behavior and thinking. If I play the piano or drink tea, I am connecting objects and people in action. The world becomes a matrix of verbs and interactions. What individuals do impacts on objects and on other individuals. Design becomes a matter of what a system of objects and people and connections and actions and flows can do.

IoT brings new capacities and new affordances to service ecosystems.

Irene listed 4 new capacities of IoT that contribute to new ways to design experiences:

  1. Liquefy information: A physical object’s information can be sent across space and time. When several information flows are combined for greater information density (e.g., from multiple objects in a kitchen used during cooking) we have more knowledge on which to base an experience design.
  2. Turn objects digital: Software and sensors embedded in an object give that object new capability. For example, a running jacket can communicate location and speed, measure temperature and heart rate, and provide programmability.
  3. Assemble individual objects into a service system: Objects and devices connected and working together exhibit abilities that they don’t have individually. A door lock plus a camera plus a tablet plus the internet can perform as a remotely monitored security system.
  4. Enable transactions between separate task spaces: A task network (such as cooking in a kitchen) can be linked to another task network (e.g., grocery shopping) and a transaction between the two enabled (deliver fill-up ingredients when inventory runs low).

Now a designer can think about a new set of affordances: properties of a system that show users what actions they can take. Ideally, the consumer will perceive the new affordances without the need for complex instruction.

Marketing changes its focus from consumers’ personal traits and segmentation to situations and contexts.

The design of an experience shifts from the use of objects to connected things with information flows in a system. A customer’s perception of the experience within the system may be affected less by their personal traits (as is often assumed in segmentations such as “early adopters” or “social approbation seekers”) and more by situational traits and context.

For example, the situation of “taking my morning coffee” affects an individual’s perception of how well a coffee mug meets their needs (how well does it fit under the spout of the coffee maker), along with a chair to sit in or a news service (paper or digital?) to read. How well do all these artifacts and services work together in this situation?

Similarly, context affects system perception. An individual might like a certain style of streaming music at home, consumed through a sound system while eating dinner, and an entirely different style for working out in the gym, consumed through a portable digital device and earpods.

The design of experiences considers situation and context, and can potentially accommodate a very broad range of people through personalization rather than cater to a narrow market segment.

The human being remains the best sensor in the system, and all design must support and enhance this role.

There may be a temptation for digital designers and technicians to become immersed in the capabilities of an IoT system and forget that it is the human who judges the value of the system through the experience it enables and supports. The human is not outside the system, but is the master sensor, providing both inputs, outputs and judgment. IoT systems provide support, using data to enhance the human experience. Empathy is still the designer’s number one tool to identify the market drivers — the dissatisfactions to be addressed — that underpin favorable human perceptions of the value of IoT systems.

Additional Resources

“Designing New Consumer Experiences in the Era of IoT” (PDF): Mises.org/E4B_124_PDF

“The Internet of Things: Review and Research Directions” by Irene Ng and Susan Wakenshaw” (PDF): Mises.org/E4B_124_Paper1

“Service Ecosystems: A Timely Worldview” by Irene Ng (PDF): Mises.org/E4B_124_Paper2

“Mimicking Firms: Future of Work and Theory of the Firm in a Digital Age” by Irene Ng (PDF): Mises.org/E4B_124_Paper3

Value & Worth: Creating New Markets in the Digital Economy by Irene Ng: Mises.org/E4B_124_Book



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