One of the most interesting books I’ve read this year is Technically Wrong, which talks to why so many products are crap. While you should read the book because I’m over simplifying, the reason for crap products according to the book is that most companies have no idea what customers want, and the act of creating a product is largely driven by—excuse the term—the biggest asshole at the planning table. In short, product creation is often more an act of dominance than a targeted effort to meet a defined customer need. Adding to this is that even though women buyers now exceed men, the industry largely focuses on male buyers and often seems it can’t spell “women” (in some firms it is far worse than that) let alone build a product for one. One of the strong counterparts that just entered the market is HP’s Tango Printer.
From the industrial design, to the user interface, to the overall customer experience the Tango Printer stands out as not only uniquely user-focused but uniquely focused on a woman buyer. Maybe I’m showing my better side, but I found the Tango Smart Printer compelling as well.
Let’s chat about the Tango Printer in the context of making products that are vastly more successful because they better meet the unmet needs of us buyers.
I was in product development for a number of years and the process often seemed to have more to do with witchcraft than it had to do with understanding and meeting customer needs. Generally, the ideas came from engineers who seemed to be more interested in seeing what they could get through the approval process by overriding everyone else, than about building something that would actually sell to anyone.
One of the interesting lessons I had was indirectly from Steve Jobs who was adamant that customers didn’t really know what they wanted. It was up the marketing team to convince them. However, his approach had one huge flaw, and that was it depended on the CEO being the guy that drove this effort. This is why every product Apple has created since Jobs’ death hasn’t been as successful. No one really replaced Jobs in this overarching product role that connected naming, product development, and marketing into an unbeatable mix.
To be successful with a new product you have to have a team that understands the unmet needs of a customer group and is free to try to meet them. When I say try, often initial efforts will be unsuccessful but—if the product fails—the team then must be able to take what was learned and factor that into the next offering. At Microsoft in the early days this seemed to have been institutionalized because it was generally their third attempt that was successful and, if you remember both the iPod and the iPhone, both of those products really ramped up after they were in their third iteration.
Eventually we should be able to use AI to simulate markets and iterate the product against virtual customers not just getting to version 3 quickly but version 1,000 quickly and—assuming the virtual model is valid and well-crafted—resulting in a level of success that would otherwise be unachievable with current resources.
I think it is fascinating how we bring stuff to market because we seem to forget lessons hard-learned by prior technology offerings. For instance, it took a while, but appliances went from being largely designed around their function but have recently evolved, particularly at the high end, to have colors and finishes to better integrate into the interior design of the home—increasing sales volume for the segment and moving the average price of these appliances up.
If you think of it, a home printer is another appliance, it should fit within the design of the home not stand out as an eyesore. In short, the printer should be as attractive in the home as a refrigerator, stove, dishwasher, or trash compactor yet, up till now, no printer (and most tech products) didn’t meet this standard.
This is what makes Tango different. HP created a new process—founded in and more tightly integrated with a diverse team of designers and marketing people. The result is an offering that looks more like something that belongs in a home and is largely invisible when not in use much like what Samsung recently did with TVs.
This diverse team was able to focus on what was important to the home buyer and trade off unneeded things like displays and other visible aspects of the technology to Smartphone apps. Remote access, integration with digital assistants like Amazon Echo, and a vastly improved setup and use experience drove a vastly different, vastly more user-focused product.
Now, HP is taking this process to more products and I think it will lead to a broader acceptance of these products into homes and offices. But the Tango Smart Printer was the start. If we’re lucky, it will be the start of a change that should sweep the tech market.
The Tango Printer is a strong counterpoint to much of what comes out of the tech market in that it is not only better designed for where it will go, it focuses much more on women buyers—the most powerful underserved customer segment in the tech market. HP got the product there by creating a new process that steps away from the “biggest asshole at the table” methodology and instead actually tries to identify and meet the unmet needs of the user. This process will be extended from their consumer products to their commercial products, suggesting our offices are also about to become both better looking, and—at least with regard to printing—more convenient.
One other thing about HP is that it is itself a decent place to work. As I finish this column, I’ve started reading a book called Lab Rats by my old friend Dan Lyons, who was once one of the most well-regarded and powerful journalists in tech. His book Disrupted ripped the façade off the abusive new-age companies that seem to currently define the tech market, showcasing them as serial abusers at scale. This latest book talks about why these firms are abusive and how their practices are turning the world into a far more hostile place for employees. HP is a solid counterpoint with a more familial type atmosphere, very different than it was a few years back and they showcase you can be successful without abusing your employees. It is a far better example of behavior that should be emulated by other firms, than companies like Google are showcasing now. By the way, I think Google employees should be praised for standing up and being counted on this critical issue of eliminating employee, particularly female employee, abuse.