When introduced, they both had a secret missing ingredient that would make the user experience more engaging, and the product more successful. For cake mix it was the egg, and for the iPhone it was the app.
As the story is told, the original cake mix developed by Betty Crocker failed. Housewives, the original target market, felt that it was just too easy. The original recipe lacked a sense of true accomplishment. The solution was to modify the recipe by requiring the addition of an egg, and a little more consumer engagement in cake creation. Sales took off.
Donald Norman, the Breed Professor of Design at Northwestern University and former VP of Apple’s Advanced Technology Group, tells this story in the context of a speech on “co-creation”. He speaks of the notion of traditional marketing being about,
“Consuming versus Producing: Spectator Versus Creator”.
And he is one of many these days who suggests that truly successful brands in the future will have a way of merging all of these things to create a tailored lifestyle, where the marketer is more often the provider of the tools and consumer is the one who assembles these tools to fit their unique lifestyle.
When the iPhone was introduced it was a great phone, really revolutionary in so many ways. But what now makes it indispensible is the app, allowing for a customized interface. Much like the egg in the cake mix, an app gives consumers the feeling of really baking the user experience themselves. Apple and the app developers provide the tools and the user creates a lifestyle.
But Professor Norman suggests, and I concur, that this kind of participation with brands and experiences is not new. He concludes,
“Consider an opera, a musical comedy, a Hollywood (or better, a Bollywood) extravaganza, or an amusement park. All of these are experiences that cut across the media: sight and sound, motion and emotion. But all of these involve a transmitter of the experience and a passive audience. Creation is not new. Artists and craftspeople create. Amateurs artists and musicians create. Game players create. But in all of these activities, there are still creators and viewers. Moreover, the creativity is often limited, much as it is limited in so-called “personalization” of software or IKEA furniture: it is limited by the desires of the manufacturer. What is needed is meaningful, thoughtful creation and participation.”
The next challenge for designers is to create what Norman calls “active, participatory transmedia”, and what I will call the convergence of a more interactive process where we are all consumers, producers, spectators, and creators.
As I mentioned in my last post, we are more and more a society and an economy based on ideas and not stuff. As David Brooks suggests, we don’t make stuff as much as we used to, we design “protocols”. In this kind of economy the distinction between the haves and the have nots will no longer be based on who owns tangible things, but who understands this interactive and transparent process of creation and consumption.