IHA speaks with Bryce G. Rutter Ph.D, founder and CEO Metaphase Design Group, Inc., to learn about his upcoming presentation at the 2018 International Home + Housewares Show about how to design products and experiences for omni-channel shoppers and how to advise retailers challenged by the merging of physical and digital spaces. At the Show, the Innovation Theater will feature 21 presentations over four days. Topics discussed will include smart home, consumer shopping preferences, branding and global market trends.
A leading specialist in ergonomic product design, Bryce is recognized globally as an expert in the design of handheld products. His work includes robotic surgical systems and instruments, medical devices, smart phones, computer input devices and wearable technology as well as food and beverage and beauty/personal care products and packaging. Metaphase Design Group defines new product categories, rejuvenates sleepy brands and develops singular design innovations for influential global brands as well as high-profile start-ups. Bryce has served as juror on national and international design award programs including the Consumer Electronics Show Innovation Awards, the Industrial Design Excellence/ID Magazine Awards and the Medical Design Excellence Awards. Metaphase has received more than 120 international awards, with two designs selected by the Museum of Modern Art, and has been awarded more than 100 design patents.
Bryce, what is the most exciting or rewarding part of your work?
Human beings are exciting and rewarding! Studying user habits, idiosyncrasies and behaviors is often breathtaking, and delivering a design solution that makes a difference to people and the balance sheet is tremendously satisfying.
What fuels your inspiration?
Open-minded clients who are willing to ask “What If?” On far too many occasions, we bump into what I call “innovation killers.” These are people who react to new ideas with “We can’t do that.” Ask the why and they invariably answer, “Because we’ve never done it that way before.” Companies that embrace innovation, that are willing to abandon all current practices to seek out and explore new and exciting paths that re-energize brands—these are the companies that reset market standards for design excellence and innovation.
Can you name a pivotal event or project that impacted your career or company?
From the day we opened in 1991, the driving Metaphase belief is that you cannot design great products unless you understand how people think, feel and behave. It’s our user-centered innovation strategy. Too often product designs are based on designers’ gut feelings and intuitions, and result in not only products that routinely deliver poor financial results for the client but also do nothing to enhance user experience. All of our projects are energized by the human factors that drive how a product feels, how it sounds and how it looks, that cumulatively create a unique and ownable user experience. This fundamental tenet informs all of our work.
In the past few years, what has changed most in your business? How has your company met these challenges in the way you do your work?
Digital technology has allowed us to decrease time-to-market. In a matter of days, we can visualize ideas and convert them to three-dimensional prototypes. There are two specific areas that have changed dramatically. “Pen to paper” has been replaced by “stylus to Cintiq tablet.” That change allows us to reduce the time required to create photorealistic renderings of a design that are enriched with the emotional impact of color and texture. These highly specific renderings allow us to test ideas with consumer and clients earlier in the design cycle. Rapid print model making and prototyping technologies have equally impacted time-to-market. The new technologies allow us to compress timelines that were formerly measured in weeks and months down to days and weeks. And—a word of caution—like all digital technologies, the Achilles’ heel is staying on top of the latest advances.
Why did you choose to speak at the International Home + Housewares Show?
I love the International Home + Housewares Show! It’s an exciting and all-inclusive buffet of products that we know and love or want to know and love. These are the products that in many ways define our lives. From the moment we wake up and make our first cup of coffee to the last touch of the alarm clock before we go to sleep, our days are distinguished by the products in our homes. The Show provides a terrific snapshot of who is doing what, how the competitive landscape is unfolding, what is state-of-the-art and how the industry is evolving.
The Myths of E-Commerce Design
Sunday, March 11 12:30 –1:20 p.m.
Innovation Theater, Lakeside Center, Room E350
Tell us what you will be speaking about and how this topic is important for Show audiences.
There’s been a lot of talk about “e-commerce design” and confusion about what e-commerce design really is. And, not unlike any new market space, there’s a bit of confusion about what companies need to do to capitalize on the expansion from bricks-and-mortar to one-click shopping. My presentation will demystify how companies need to rethink their primary and secondary packaging design to meet the unique supply chain requirements of e-commerce design, as well as identify key opportunities for innovation.
What do you see as consumers’ biggest concerns regarding housewares products or how to shop for them?
(1) While the Internet of Things brings tremendous connectivity, it also is a significant pain point for the average consumer who is trying to get all of his/her devices interconnected. In many cases, I see technology for technology’s sake – it is not solving bona fide user needs. As a result, the technology is empty, creating psychological noise and confusion in the consumer space.
(2) In too many cases, the perception of beauty trumps usability. But if a product does not work as well as it looks, it is a guaranteed failure in the market; and it forever stains the brand impression on the consumer. Products that ignore the natural human aging process ultimately fail. Less flexibility, less dexterity, changes in eyesight and chronic health issues creep into every life over time. Designing products that take into account these natural aging processes will produce user interfaces that do not require force and dexterity that exceed the physical capability, or the mental acuity that exceeds the available bandwidth, of an important segment of the market.
What are some of today’s trends or issues that new product development professionals and/or retailers face in the housewares market?
Without a doubt, the biggest trend is the profusion of digital technology into all aspects of our daily lives. The Internet of Things owns the world and we’re just living in it! Through voice commands with Amazon’s Alexa, Google’s Home and Apple’s Siri, we can create a shopping list, turn lights on and off, adjust the volume or find out how to bake a chicken. Our refrigerators talk to our smart phones, our smart thermostats and security system teach themselves about our habits and act accordingly. Wherever we go, there’s another app, another digital assistant and another piece of hardware that connects to something else in our homes.
The fundamental question that should lead all product development and brand professionals today is whether digital technology is enhancing or confusing life. My personal view is that I have seen too many instances of technology that exists simply because it can. Because we can make it! And I see far too few new product decisions based on contextual analysis, user insights and need states. Compounding this is a geometrically increasing speed of obsolescence that drives the next upgrade that in turn dominos through all interconnected devices, with not much gained by the effort.
The true potency of new technology is to make life more seamless and simple, and to allow us to live longer and happier. Given the technology storm, are any of us on the trajectory toward a simpler, more seamless, longer, happier life? I think we have the opportunity to make and use technology that is truly empowering. It’s going to be a wild, interesting ride to see how we use that opportunity.
Thank you, Bryce, for sharing your thoughts about these challenging developments in the housewares landscape. We look forward to your presentation on Sunday, March 11 at 12:30 p.m. in the Innovation Theater when we will learn from you about the challenges of designing for the omni-channel purchasing environment.
For more information, visit the Metaphase website.
Learn from experts about how to invigorate your new products and services by enhancing your innovation efforts. Critical issues such as global design trends, branding, the needs of distinct consumer age and gender groups, and questions about smart/connected devices in our home environments – all impact the home goods market. Be sure to attend the free executive-level educational sessions at the Innovation Theater. These programs will give you a fresh perspective as you walk the Show and will inspire, inform and improve your business. All programs will be audio-recorded and will be available at www.housewares.org after the Show.