Traditional marketing teaches businesses to identify and map out the wants and needs of their typical customer. In addition to this technique, design thinking asks companies to look at their extreme customers. These are customers on either end of the spectrum – those that love the product and those that hate it, those that have never heard of it and customers who are quite familiar with it. Other examples of extreme customers are those who wouldn’t care about the product at all and those who have specialized needs that the product could serve. These customers can enlighten businesses as to what is working and what isn’t and encourage innovative and original ideas.

The first way to research extreme customers is to find and interview them. A bank could survey customers as they stand in line and then go to the mall in search of customers who bank elsewhere or don’t even have a bank account. Developers of an app could interview downloaders of their previous app as well as senior citizens and people who don’t own smartphones.

Nintendo used the interview method to ask non-video game users why they didn’t like to play video games. They were told that controllers which were difficult to maneuver and games which were too complicated were a turn-off. The result? Nintendo designed Wii, a game which is based on simple graphics and controllers which mimic real-life motions. The game was an instant hit and thoroughly disrupted the video game industry.

The other way to research extreme customers is to become one yourself. This method can lead designers to find both the problems and the solutions. A student at Harvard Business School used a rice cooker for all his meals for two weeks straight in order to simulate an Asian customer whose menu is based almost entirely on rice. He soon grew bored of eating plain rice day and night and started experimenting with different dishes which could be made in the rice cooker. He gained insight into what the rice cooker could and could not do, and envisioned what the ultimate rice cooker should be able to accomplish.

Triode has conducted  extreme customer interviews for the development of a medical device. What we have learned has drastically modified the device design. If you want to discuss specifically this case, just let us know!

Patrick Sirois

At Triode, we specialize in developing new products and services for complex industries like medical devices and transportation. We work with you closely to help define product strategy, with an emphasis on reducing the risks associated with innovating in these sophisticated and often regulated consumer-oriented environments.