Never before has the world felt so uncertain. In some cases, and businesses, the past year has brought the future to the here and now. Remote working, which was in many industries frowned upon, is now a given. Government services that presumably just weren’t possible online have gone online. Delivery services have multiplied like mushrooms after the rain and everything that can be packaged is now available online, if it is available at all anymore.


On the other hand, competition online is more like an oriental bazaar, with everyone shouting out their sales pitches at the same time, instead of the orderly communication and traditional advertising that we used to get offline. On the first glance, many products and services seem incredibly alike and being able to tell the good ones apart from the bad ones is a real challenge. Furthermore, in an era of accelerating technological innovation and information flow, it is a real challenge to ensure that your product or service is actually fundamentally different from your competitor’s. Especially since most companies are keenly aware of what their competitors are doing, presuming also that they must know something more, and then copy whatever it is that the others are doing.


More and more we fall back on an adage that we’ve used since Brand Manual’s founding in 2009: most companies are saying the same thing about the same thing at the same time. Quality is not unique anymore and more features just make choosing harder. However, talking about and delivering quality is easy and adding features seems logical and therefore that is, what is done. However, for customers who are literally bombarded with information (most of which is irrelevant) more choice is debilitating, not liberating.


What does your customer actually value, from what he or she buys from you? Surprisingly, many companies and organisations simply do not know. The presumption is – quite logically actually – that since whatever they are making is also currently selling it must be what people value. And, again quite logically, since the sales are growing, making more of the same or similar stuff, must be a good idea. And since competitors are also doing it, then what could possibly go wrong?


Where is value created for your customer? Professor Noriaki Kano way back in the 1980s defined that every product or service competes on three levels. The first level is the hygiene factor. This is the level where the product or service does what it says it does. A car drives. Planes fly. Winter jackets keep you warm. Grocery stores have a wide variety of groceries. Hygiene factors are the basics, without which you would not be considered at all. 

The second level includes linear factors. Cars drive faster, are more efficient, cheaper, have more features. Flights are cheaper or connect faster. Winter clothes are warmer or lighter or better made. Groceries are fresher, more organic or cheaper. Linear factors are understandable in the sense that more is more, or less in the case of price. You know what you pay for. They are rational. 

The third level includes delightful factors. These are the reason people come back. What they really value above and beyond what they actually pay for.

The hygiene, linear and delightful factors beautifully correlate to Simon Sinek’s Golden Circle theory of what, how and why. According to Simon, all companies know what they are doing. Making cars. Flying people. They also know how they are doing it. The processes, the machinery, the production. However, the question of WHY they are doing it, is often undefined and after a longer time in business, unclear. WHY is related to the delightful factor, which is one of the key reasons for customer loyalty. This requires a different outlook. Why do you come to work on Monday? What is the purpose of your existence?


What will the future look like? Who knows. But as long as companies and organisations follow each other instead of looking to understand what the customers actually value about them, the future will always be a fog. As professor Theodore Levitt famously posited, “people don’t want to buy a quarter inch drill. They want a quarter-inch hole.” Similarly, in most cases, they don’t want what you make but rather what they get from it. To acquire this knowledge requires a focus on where the value is actually created for customers, not where the company makes its money. This shift of focus from what you deliver to what customers actually hire your product or service to do for them is something that requires companies to rid themselves of their most basic presumptions and step outside their internal echo chambers.

While we have all heard and read a lot about political and social echo chambers in past tumultuous years, we have often failed to recognise the biggest echo chamber of them all: our own organisation. After all, people working together towards a common goal will inevitably start thinking alike at some point. Furthermore, our own confirmation bias naturally makes us look for data to back up our own conjectures. The only way to challenge our own biases is by going to the source and finding out what actually matters, and is of value, to our customers.


The only way to stop saying the same thing about the same thing at the same time as your competitors is to find out what do your customers actually value about your product or service. This means going outside the echo chamber and your own confirmation biases to talk to customers in-depth. You will find out a lot of what you already knew, but haven’t acted upon or didn’t consider relevant. You will also find some things you never thought about, that if you start acting upon them, you can clear up the fog of your future. You will also find out, that in most cases you are not as important to your customer as you thought you were. Which is actually a very good starting point to answer the “why” question and start delivering on the delightful factor, which keeps your customers coming back to you. Best of all, you’ll stop following your competitors and start following your customers, which is as Jeff Bezos pointed out, the reason for Amazon’s success.

Learn how your organisation can harness design thinking and service design. We train a lot of companies. Either through SD4X, the Design Masterclass, or directly. Drop us a line.

If you design a city for healthy young people, then it is accessible for healthy young people.

If you design a city for people in a wheelchair, for people with poor hearing and eye-sight, for elderly and infirm people, then it is accessible to everyone.

After all, accessible by wheelchair also makes it more accessible for skateboarders and parents pushing strollers and bikers. Safer for the elderly (who maybe can’t see or hear so well) also means safer for small children (who don’t pay attention to dangers around them).

The above doesn’t seem like such as stretch. It doesn’t even change the cost of design too much. Making places wheelchair accessible, for instance, doesn’t make construction more expensive or cheaper. Just different. In fact, modern cities are built more and more around this principle and it does make the city a more vibrant and fun place. For everyone.

So far so good. 

Online doesn’t play

However, the online the world looks very much like the city built for healthy young people. If you are not comfortable using digital tools, if you can’t read small, low-contrast text, if you are not sure of what the red button does, then you can’t play there. 

Online accessibility is a problem. The same way stairs with no ramp option are a problem. 

Technical support

In my family I am technical support. On a daily basis I see how hard it is for an elderly (but sharp and modern) person to navigate all the different platforms, softwares and hardwares, to participate in online life. Tech support from the hosts of different environments is all geared towards explaining tech to the tech-savvy. But to an 83 year old, it is all greek.

The difference between a URL, a website, an online bank and a homepage is not obvious. Neither is the need for different user names and passwords (that you need to remember) and two factor identification based on social security numbers and an app in your phone. And then there is the password to your computer, the user name of it, how that relates to your computer app store account (or doesn’t), how that is connected to your phone (or isn’t). Add on top the need for multi-tasking in various softwares and communication platforms during online meetings, and a person that is a little bit afraid of technology because she isn’t comfortable with it, and you have a recipe for confusion and aversion. In the worst case scenario, it ends with the person not participating at all in online discourse.

The online world is not accessible to people uncomfortable with tech, the way a stair case is not accessible to either a parent with a baby carriage or a wheelchair bound person.

Designed by the designer for the designer

As long as the design of things and services and environments is done mainly by healthy males, then there will be an inherent bias towards making things work well for healthy males. This is discriminatory towards women in general, because everything from the way a seat-belt works in a car to the size of smart-phone is based on male proportions and physiology. But it is especially descriminatory towards young and old and non-typical people in every way. In short: stairs everywhere.

Online accessibility = offline accessibility = accessibility

The online world has to be as accessible to everyone, as the offline world. Ramps and automatic doors and flat surfaces and benches to rest on and so on. In the real world, it starts with putting yourself in other people’s shoes, and trying to access a building in a wheelchair, or cross a road as an octogenarian, or open a door as five year old. In the online world, it also requires a bit of empathy to imagine and work towards making the site work for everyone. Fortunately there are also online tools, to help ensure accessibility for all.

A checklist to consider for accessibility improvements includes:

– language settings (especially for multi-lingual countries)

– enabling visual indicators (for keyboard enabled navigation)

– preparing the site for screen readers (allows you to listen to websites)

– preparing your site structure (a clear hierarchy of text, that can be toggled through in the right order)

– images and galleries with descriptions (for screen readers) for the visually impaired

– text and graphics that are clearly discernable, with legible fonts and type sizes

– reduced motion (less things that move around and are fancy)

– Videos, audio and documents made accessible (videos with transcripts etc)

– Adding an accessibility statement to your site, with a feedback loop, so that users can help you improve.

Just as design for inclusion isn’t common in the real world (but getting better), it is also missing in the virtual world. However, as we move more and more online, there is a real risk of leaving many people behind if we don’t make a concerted effort to bring them along. Making sure your online presence is accessible to all, is a good step in that direction.

If you want to know more about this, or human centred design in general, get in touch with us.