Customer-focused creativity

Successful products develop from deep understanding of buyer wants and needs

Jacqui Griffiths
14 January 2019

5 min read

Product designs that focus on features and functions are no longer enough to meet consumers’ expectations. Today, successful product innovation starts with understanding consumer needs and wants, and then crafts experiences that make the consumer's life easier or more enjoyable. As a result, consumer goods organizations are abandoning a focus on what they can make and innovating by considering the experience from the user’s point of view.

Combining tradition with continuous reinvention is essential to delivering the creative experience expected by the discerning consumers of French porcelain manufacturer Bernardaud, which creates items ranging from tableware and home décor to lamps, jewelry and limited editions in collaboration with contemporary artists. Although the company has realized hundreds of designs created for bespoke orders, including ones placed by presidents and royalty, consumers expect it to keep those designs fresh.

“Our company lives through creativity,” said Charles Bernardaud, director of development at Bernardaud. “We need to renew ourselves constantly so that people stay interested in what we have to offer.”

The 150-year-old organization, with its heritage of hand-crafted porcelain, is applying technology to the challenges of innovation.

“In the past our designs were hand-drawn, and the prototype was made by hand,” Bernardaud said. “Now we use 3D design and printing. That means we can prototype pieces much faster, and we can show the client what a piece will look like, in a very realistic way, before we ever produce it.”

Technology also helps Bernardaud create products that simply weren’t possible before.

Jeff Koons. Balloon Monkey (Blue) 2017. Limited edition of 900. Porcelain. Bernardaud. (Image © Jeff Koons)

“We can create and reproduce intricate geometrical designs that wouldn’t be possible by hand,” Bernardaud said. “In our collaboration with the artist Jeff Koons, for example, we are producing porcelain pieces that wouldn’t have been possible five years ago. Meeting the artists’ precise demands requires extreme precision that can only be achieved with technology.”

Bernardaud’s use of technology to give demanding consumers what they want reflects a growing trend in the Home & Lifestyle industry: consumer-centered experience-creation processes.


That trend also is evident at Danish footwear brand ECCO, where a dedicated team at ECCO’s Innovation Lab (ILE) in Amsterdam recently completed a customer-centric experiment that could revolutionize the footwear industry.

The Quant-U (Quantified You) customization project involves multiple innovations. In addition to developing a particular footwear construction to facilitate the use of customized components, the team worked with a supplier to create an innovative, 3D-printable material, and developed proprietary algorithms to deliver a unique and customized in-store experience.


of the fastest growing companies say fostering an innovation culture is a strategic priority.

ECCO combined anatomical scanning, real-time gait analysis, data-driven design and 3D printing to produce silicone midsoles unique to each customer, in-store, in less than two hours.

“By 3D printing pure silicone in a certain way, we are able to dynamically tune the already excellent properties of the silicone itself,“ said Patrizio Carlucci, head of ILE. “This tuneability allows us to automatically generate components that, due to different cushioning, fit and elasticity properties, will offer an optimal behavior in different situations, such as standing for a long period of times versus more dynamic activities.“

As the digital age changes assumptions about what people consume and how they consume it, ILE exemplifies the importance of consumer-specific innovation. While many consumer-goods companies focus on gimmicks such as printing a consumer’s favorite photo onto a garment, ILE’s approach to customization improves the wearer’s experience through improved comfort or performance by augmenting the product to the wearer’s gait and fit.

Data is the key to make that happen, said Bud Morris, president of retail installation and merchandising firm Canada’s Best Group of Companies, a member of the Canada-based Innovators Alliance network.

“Collecting and using data, and curating content to match consumers’ interests, allows businesses to create a lifestyle and culture around what they are selling to form a deeper connection to their products,” Morris said.

The Quant-U experiment, for example could open new markets to ECCO, including orthotics and medical applications. For now, however, ECCO’s focus is consumer comfort.

ECCO’s Quant-U service offers 3D printing of silicone midsoles to create customized footwear with individual fit and comfort. (Image © ECCO)

“The concept is built around imagining how people will consume differently in the future, how to stimulate traffic in the retail setting where measurements will be taken, how to create new customer loyalty scenarios,” Carlucci said. “It can be a transformational experience because wearing a pair of shoes that are customized for their feet could make a wearer’s daily life a bit better, and these are the kind of profound experiences we tend to favor the most. With our process, even if customers don’t purchase customized footwear, they will learn so much about the way they move and their feet anatomy and this can be instrumental in a healthier approach towards activities.”


At Japanese firm Honda Power Products (HPP), which produces a range of products from general-purpose engines to outboard engines, the influence of new technologies on consumers’ expectations made it essential to think differently about innovation.

“We have to create empathy with people through our designs and associate feelings with them beyond the conventional values of reliability and attractive objects,” said Toshinobu Minami, design and strategy leader for research and development at HPP. To create new perspectives for continuous innovation, HPP solicited input from other industries, an increasingly popular strategy.

“We’ve conducted collaboration with the designers of a home appliance manufacturer and a cutlery manufacturer,” Minami said. “We also did a workshop with the creators, who belong to an organization that has been established in a major advertising agency to pursue creative activities of new value. The designers/creators with different backgrounds brought different idea methods, which motivate us to see things and experiences from a new perspective.”

An annual internal competition generates new ideas from HPP’s staff designers, who present their advanced designs to the company’s board members.

“One young designer, after experiencing the Great East Japan Earthquake in 2011, presented an idea for a portable battery inverter power source,” Minami said. “The product was eventually commercialized as the E500 portable battery inverter power source and gained awards such as Good Design and JIDA Design Museum Selection.”


Bernardaud, ECCO and Honda Power Products are very different companies, but each is breaking age-old boundaries on innovation in ways that open new markets for their products.

“The technology we’re working with makes it possible to achieve the quality standards and precision that enable us to enter other markets,” Bernardaud said. “We’re working on many things that are not tableware, including bulletproof vests, technical ceramics for machinery and porcelain containers that meet the quality standards of the cosmetics market. We simply couldn’t have done that without the technology we have in place.”

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