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How a small design agency uses curiosity to power great product innovation

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How a small design agency uses curiosity to power great product innovation

Designing new consumer products is not easy. Success is never guaranteed. Each year, companies launch 30,000 new consumer products, according to Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen: 95% of them fail.

Retronymity is a small custom product design consultancy in San Jose, California, working hard to beat the odds for its clients. We sat down for beers with Russell Ong, Retronymity’s co-founder and Head of Product, to hear him share his research philosophy and learn how SurveyMonkey Audience helps his team gather feedback from the market and refine ideas from a user-centered perspective.

The key ingredients in great product innovation

When new clients come to Russell, they usually bring with them product ideas that are already pretty developed. They figure that if it’s something they think is cool or necessary, then there has to be a market for it. It’s Russell’s job to check whether that’s true and to refine the product concept based on his findings.

The first few weeks into a project are all about research. So, what makes a good researcher when it comes to product innovation?

“Curiosity is a central theme,” Russell says. “Paired with empathy, it can be a foundational ingredient for a great researcher.”

Childlike curiosity

Russell’s clients are so passionate about the products they’re developing, it’d be easy to take their direction at each phase of the development process. Russell challenges their assumptions by reacting with curiosity. He asks a lot of questions–using quantitative and qualitative methods–, trying to get at the root of the consumer problem each product would solve.

His clients want an experienced studio, yes. But also, as Retronymity’s website makes clear, they appreciate designers who “can still appreciate the world with childlike curiosity and wonder.”

Deep empathy

But asking questions of the client is only the first step, Russell says. A good design researcher needs to get inside the head of a product’s potential consumer.

“Understanding people is super important if you want to deeply feel how they experience a problem,” he says. “After all, these are the problems that we’re trying to design products to solve, right?”

How to find the right audience to talk to

Russell has been a SurveyMonkey customer since business school, and has continued to use the survey platform across multiple jobs. More recently, he was pleased to discover the SurveyMonkey Audience panel.

“For a small organization, it’s terribly difficult to speak to the people we need to. Audience enables that access to people,” Russell says. “Audience lets us do research that’s more characteristic of larger organizations with more resources.”

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The great advantage of being able to ask good questions to the right target market is that they always make your ideas better.

The results from SurveyMonkey Audience “really make us think deeply about how we’re going to craft our strategy in pursuit of a product design that creates the best experience for end users,” Russell says. And, he adds with a smile, they “make us realize we’re not as smart as we thought we were!”

There’s a lot more you can do with SurveyMonkey Audience, our survey panel solution for market research. Check it out now.

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