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Well-Designed: How to Use Empathy to Create Products People Love Hardcover – November 11, 2014

4.5 out of 5 stars 15 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


“Top 11 Books to Watch for Q4.” — 250 Words (250words.com)

A “Best Book of the year” pick.“ … worthy reading for anyone looking to launch a new product or tweak an existing one.” — SUCCESS magazine

“… a welcome reminder that respecting customers' emotional needs should be your top product-development priority--no matter what you're designing.” – Inc.

"If consumers engage with a product to the point of modifying their own behavior—hello iPad!—the marketing is a done deal. It's all about identifying the opportunities then designing products that connect." — Qantas - The Australia Way

Well-Designed provides a refreshing approach to the way we view successful services, policies, strategies and business models.” — Engineering and Technology Magazine, The Institution of Engineering and Technology

ADVANCE PRAISE for Well-Designed:

Richard Florida, professor, University of Toronto and New York University; author, The Rise of the Creative Class
“Steve Jobs’s creativity as a designer was the key to his entrepreneurial genius. But can Jobs’s style of ‘design thinking’ be scaled? Jon Kolko shows that it can be—step by step, through a set of processes that are iterative, collaborative, and, best of all, easily learned. Well-Designed is bracingly practical and deeply inspiring.”

John Maeda, design partner, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers; author, The Laws of Simplicity and Redesigning Leadership
“Great companies are made through great products, and increasingly, great products are made through design. Kolko demonstrates that product managers must learn to think like designers; they need to embrace intuition, emotion, and most importantly, empathy. This insightful book is a must-read.”

Ric Grefé, Executive Director, AIGA, the professional association for design—
“Jon Kolko illuminates the intuitive skills of the designer with such clarity, truly describing ‘how’ instead of just ‘what.’ Two millennia ago, Vitruvius’s manifesto on great design exhorted, ‘utilitas, firmitas, e venustas.’ Well-Designed expands on this: make things useful, usable, and delightful—and here’s how.”

Liz Danzico, cofounder and Chair, MFA Interaction Design Program, School of Visual Arts; Creative Director, NPR—
“There are books about design, and there are books about leadership. By uniting practical processes and insightful ideas and interviews, Jon Kolko gives us both: an essential playbook comprising advice, research, and methods for engaged product design leadership.”

Robert Fabricant, cofounder and Principal, Design Impact Group, Dalberg Global Development Advisors—
“Product managers are the most important link between great ideas and great products. Jon Kolko speaks directly to this critical audience, providing the practical know-how to make design fit within their day-to-day decision making. Well-Designed is the essential guide to design that all product managers will learn from and love.”

Don Norman, Director, Design Lab, University of California, San Diego; author, Design of Everyday Things
Well-Designed presents a unique, powerful, human-centered way to design a product and then, how to master the important and oft-neglected task of guiding it through the complexities of development and delivery. This unique, easy to read, and powerful book is essential for anyone involved with product management.”

About the Author

Jon Kolko is Vice President of Consumer Design at Blackboard Inc. He joined Blackboard with the acquisition of MyEdu, a start-up focused on helping students succeed in college and get jobs. Jon is also the founder and Director of Austin Center for Design. His work focuses on bringing the power of design to social enterprises. He has worked extensively with both start-ups and Fortune 500 clients, and he’s most interested in humanizing educational technology. Jon previously held the roles of both Principal Designer and Associate Creative Director at frog design and was also a Professor of Interaction Design and Industrial Design at the Savannah College of Art and Design.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard Business Review Press (November 11, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1625274793
  • ISBN-13: 978-1625274793
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 0.9 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.9 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #76,748 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Kindle Edition
This book is about using empathy and customer emotions in order to develop better products that are deeply rooted in lives and behaviors of clients. The aim is to create products and services which are more emotionally connected with the desires, wants and needs of the customer, and the way of doing it is being more empathetic with them, ie, step into their shoes, spend more time with them in their daily lives and most importantly ask Why do they do what they do.

The author supports his theory relying on interviews and the development of a fictional case. The interviews (which I think are the best part of the book) include some very known personalities in the world of tech startups like Gary Chou, Josh Elman, Frank Lyman among others.

The author explains that make Empathy the priority in the Product Management will give better results than a Market or Technology centered approach.

The book lays down the steps for succeeding with the making of an empathic and emotional product, but as often happens with this kind of books, I have one quibble: all the inferences that are made are based on anecdotes. Anecdotes have two main biases: survivorship and representativeness, ie, we don't know what would have happened to those who applied the Steps and didn't succeed.

I think some of the things the author talks about are very valuable and can be applied not only in Product Management, but also in a wide variety of activities that are closely related with human behavior and social sciences, especially in policies and programs focused on humanitarian aid.
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Format: Hardcover
I share Jon Kolko's high regard for companies such as Apple and Nest whose customers describe their experiences with them using adjectives such as "beautiful, "Awesome," "drop-dead gorgeous, "amazing," and even "revolutionary." They are obviously what Ben McConnell and Jackie Huba characterize as "customer evangelists." In our family, we own just about every Apple product and three of our homes have a Nest "learning thermostat."

Kolko observes, "What makes these companies unique is that their products are the result of a [begin italics] design process {end italics], and it is this process that has led to unprecedented media fascination and consumer adoption...This engagement [by consumers] is achieved by designing products that seem as though they have a personality or even a soul. These products feel less like manufactured artifacts and more like good friends."

I discussed this subject with two of my sons and our daughter, recalling my own "good friends" in childhood: Radio Flyer wagon, Lionel train set, Schwinn American bicycle, Wilson Ball Hawk baseball glove, and a Red Rider BB gun. Our sons then cited Etch A Sketch, Rock a Stack, G.I. Joe, Tonka Trucks, Hot Wheels, SuperBall, and Star Wars action figures. As for our daughter, her "good friends" include Barbie and Ken dolls, Cabbage Patch Kids, a fully-decorated doll house, and a toy iron. They and I can recall specific situations and how much we enjoyed our engagement with what proved to be classic toys. You can thus imagine how much they and I later enjoyed the three Toy Story films.

These are among the dozens of passages of greatest interest and value to me, also listed to suggest the scope of Kolko's coverage:

o What Is Design Thinking?
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Format: Hardcover
Did this book deliver on its promised slogan of using empathy to create a product people love? Did this reviewer fall in love with it and be enthused…?

The aim is simple, look at the changing state of the market and consider the new challenges that companies face to get customers to buy their products and services. Engagement and empathy are two of the new buzzwords and so the author offers a “new view and usable process for conceiving and building powerful, emotionally resonant new products.” Perhaps you cannot compare a book to a mobile telephone, a cup of coffee or a car on one hand, yet many of the same attractions and connections should be the same?

This reviewer is not entirely convinced that this book practices what it preaches. The author notes that deep, meaningful engagement happens when products and services are delivered in an authentic way, so consumers see them less like manufactured artefacts and more like good friends thanks to empathy-driven design thinking and a process of storytelling and iteration. Yet this connection did not seem to be fully formed, despite the subject being interesting and the reviewer had a preliminary interest even before the first page was turned. But this is not a bad book, far from it, although it did feel slightly out-of-tune or less focussed.

It is true that most companies are still stuck in an old-fashioned mindset when it comes to product development and production, where the customer’s needs still come second to the company’s decision of what they need or shall have. The more alert company is looking forward, being agile with its development and listens to its customers (as well as second-guessing what the future might bring and seeking to innovate and enhance the customer experience).
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