Digital entertainment firms need to compete based upon user-understanding

Patrick Whitney, Steelcase/Robert C. Pew Professor, Director of Institute of Design , Illinois Institute of Technology

We are a graduates school of design based in Chicago. However, we do have a research program with Tsinghua University Academy of Art and Design which conducts studies of how people use products and services in their homes.

What are the most important challenges and opportunities for the developments of DE industry in China, at both the consumer and industry levels? Companies must discover people's unexpressed wants and needs even before people know they have them. Historically, Sony did this with the Walkman. No focus group asked for "a small tape machine that does not have to record, and that will let me listen to music while I walk around". In fact, all of the marketing studies told Sony that the product would fail. Akio Morita understood that there was a new social pattern amongst youth that would want portable music. Digital Entertainment and Consume Electronic companies have reached parity in technology. They need to compete based upon user-understanding.

Infrastructure development, standadarization, talent development, market openness, R&D initiatives, international cooperation -- These all are important points to froster a better, faster and healthier development of the digital entertainment industry in China. Talent development certainly is one of the key needs, and design schools need to play a key role if China is to lead in the development of Digital Entertainment. However, the majority of design schools in China focus on decoration. A few leading schools are developing program in advanced methods of design that include user-understanding. This has to be expanded to have talented designers who can design the products and design the content.

We want to work with Tsinghua and companies in China to develop user research methods for China. Company leaders know that innovation will not come from technology alone. They know their companies will win in the complex and diverse China markets if they have designers who know how to understand users needs before the users can express them. This is only way to develop the next Walkman and iPod.

(October 12, 2005)

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