“The iPhone isn’t a product, it’s a behavior space,” said Alexander Manu, strategic innovation practitioner at the keynote address I attended at the International Association of Societies of Design Research (IASDR) Conference held in Brisbane, Australia. The statement immediately struck me and got me thinking. To give you a little bit of a background, Manu began his talk on each era’s views on market differentiation. In the ‘80s, it was all about product features. The market eventually got saturated with similar products as competitors caught up with initial disruptive innovations. The ‘90s brought in products that aimed at delivering experiences. The ‘00s had a theme of exploring possibility and, currently, it’s about leveraging technology into new behavior platforms and product and service designs.
What are behavior platforms? Manu used Facebook as an example of a behavior platform, in that it allows you to act and interact, making behavior the key transaction in this service: “The Internet isn’t a technology, it only transports human behavior.” I have a difficult time not seeing the Internet as a technology, but he does have a point: technology is simply the medium or tool to let us get what we want.
The next decade’s focus on behavioral platforms will create new value not only in profit margins, but also in the ways technology can change the world through transporting human behavior. “It’s not about the selfie stick, it’s about the self. This is the human condition,” Manu said, referring to how technology is a vehicle to fulfilling human needs. In this case, the need is to be seen and affirm “the self.” He continued, “We are inventing behaviors, not technologies.” This statement makes me realize how much power design has in terms of scale; it affects what individuals and even entire societies do.
Even though we as designers develop products aimed at meeting human needs, we don’t actually fully understand how they affect behavior. Manu states that a lot more study needs to be done in this area. One thing we can do is map out these experiences (see below) to understand the current landscape and then project design scenarios for the future.
This makes me think of Henry Ford’s statement with regards to designing the first car: “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” Ford clearly had the foresight to design to needs people didn’t even know they had. Likewise, we need to be aware of behavior ecosystems and design behavior platforms within these spaces.
There was so much packed in this rapid-fire presentation, I’m skimming the surface. His talk also covered the implications for business, so if you’d like to read Alexander Manu’s latest book which came out in August 2015, see Value Creation and the Internet of Things: How the Behavior Economy Will Shape the 4th Industrial Revolution.
I was lucky enough to share a table with Alexander at the conference dinner. There’s never a dull moment with this man and, of course, I had to take a selfie because of his reference to them in his talk!