Ronit: So today we have with us our hosts Yair Giwnewer from BreezoMeter, our product manager of consumer products. Yair has a master’s degree in industrial psychology and 11 years of experience as a UX designer and product manager. As I mentioned he heads our consumer products initiative here at BreezoMeter and we're lucky to have the opportunity to pick his brain as always. Welcome, Yair.
And we are super lucky to have with us Christoph Burkhardt, the CEO of the pioneering air purifier company Onelife. Chris is an innovation psychologist, he's an award-winning author of Don't Be a Robot, and he is a San Francisco-based German entrepreneur coined Germany’s best innovation psychologist. Fancy. Chris thanks for being with us today. I know based on our talks that this topic is very close to your heart and your personal experience so I’ll let you have the stage.
Christoph: Thank you so much Ronit, and yeah, thanks for having me. This is a super exciting topic obviously. This is a perfect moment to think about this and how it's changing the product design that's mission observant but then looking... so, in my life I went from psychology to technology to business very quickly, and now I’m like full circle oh we're coming back to this and this is this moment in time where, coming out of a pandemic, we have this chance, this challenge, but also this opportunity to rethink certain things.
And to be fully honest, being here in silicon valley, I wasn't too happy about all the things that happened in the last year because actually, I saw too little action, and I was always fascinated by the technology companies and how they apply technologies to make things better, and I honestly expect it more in 2020, helping with the pandemic whether this is about consolidating research or putting together the information that I really needed to be informed.
These platforms have all the knowledge they have the information and somehow it was really hard for them to help and so this made me really think, in 2020, how can we be a company that has a purpose that makes things better and what is this better going to look like and I think this is why the psychology behind product design is so important and that's why I’m so excited to be here today and yeah let's talk about this.
Yair: Yeah, I tried to set the stage, so I completely agree with Chris. There's a feeling that the potential of technology at this point in time and was not yet fully realized. If I take us back let's go back to maybe the early 80s, Donald Norman and others, started talking about user experience and user center design and think about the technological advancement that we had in the last 30-40 years it's absolute absolutely mind-blowing. From the invention of the internet, mobility, online shopping, and many many other advancements, and all of them driven by the right reasons right. Right?
There was a problem to be solved. There was a need, there was a human need that needed attention, and I think many many organizations surely won the product battle, right? They created wonderful experiences and they succeeded. But I feel now, in 2021, we are still at a point where we didn't find the right balance between technology, the human beings, and something very substantial is missing in the way we approach product development and UX design.
To emphasize a bit what I'm aiming at, I want to take us back to the definition of health, as the world health organization defined it in 1984. As opposed to what the definition was before that, where health was almost seen as the opposite of being sick, today we're looking, ever since actually, we're looking at health in a much more broad perspective that takes into consideration not only the physical aspect of an individual but also psychological aspects related to his well-being and his realizing of his potential, and the environment becomes really really important.
In order to really understand what went wrong, we need to put health in the center of what we are considering and how we developed products, and that's a very different approach from what we were looking at for many many years. I was actually teaching User-Centered Design for so long, and design thinking, and everything that we consider a great product development life cycle, and let me try and propose that our approach was a bit narrow to what's the challenges that we have today, and moving forward. We are now entering the age of IoT and AI, and looking at the perspective of a specific task is no longer suitable.
So let me explain what I mean: user center design has been focused on putting a philosophy right putting the user at the center of the product the development life cycle from the very start to the very end, right? We have the user characteristics as a human being, his ability to remember, and the different psychological limitations of the person as a human being, and there's the task, right? And we've been teaching and preaching for: do proper task analysis, and observe users using your product, and do all these different research methods, and that looked like a great promise, right? You're developing a product that will be successful, and indeed, for many years it was successful. As I said, there are many many companies that flourished, and doing this, they were highly successful.
And yet something is wrong. Going back to what we said about health, this is exactly what we missed when we focused on and took UCD very literally and very narrowly to define what does it mean to be successful at your task. So both, as a user I mean, right? I mean, I'm using a system in order to complete a certain task. But that's not the right approach, not really. If we take a more broad perspective on product development and health, and I could have written here in the center human not health, right? But what makes us more complete human beings includes our well-being, our psychological well-being, includes the environment, and includes the physical aspect of it.
And what we, what I'm proposing, and what Chris, tonight we're talking, is that in a very high level, the first to do is consider our products, how the mission of our company is geared towards better health, and not only product success. And that means fundamentally changing a lot of how we perceive the company's success or the product’s success. So this is a new way to look at what we're trying to do, and what I guess Onelife and Chris are saying for a while now. This is why I was so excited to talk to him about this.
The Shift to Health-Centered Design
Christoph: Yeah this is, I think this is, it's a crucial question, what success can be defined as if we look today? I mean, during the pandemic, we were forced to use all kinds of technologies for specific purposes. I mean, we're on a zoom call now. Everybody got used to these technologies, and now we're looking at what do these technologies ultimately do is super interesting to understand. How do you measure the success of your technology?
When you look at examples like YouTube, Netflix, or even the blockchain, so these are companies or platforms that use a certain algorithm to predict things, to make recommendations that make me stay on the platform, to make me watch content. How do they measure their success is a really crucial question, and I don't think that the next generation of users is willing, or even capable, of accepting those KPIs any longer. And this is why at Onelife especially, we had to change the look, the feel of our KPIs, and understand what we're after.
So Youtube and Netflix, basically, if you're on the platform, they measure the success by how long you stay on Youtube because you watch more ads. That way there's more revenue, and ultimately if the profit is your indicator then that's a good way to measure. Netflix also has this indicator not about ads, but obviously, they produce movies for you, so they the personalization of the show that you're watching right now is an indicator of the success of their algorithms. Blockchain makes things distributed and decentralized and allows more democratic participation. But ultimately all these tools, all these algorithms, and how they're used, they try to get you to fulfill something that's in the KPIs of the company.
The moment you change how you measure success, you also change everything that is product design. So you have you break it down to something that is really really hard to do, but it's so necessary that now, coming out of this pandemic, we understand that technology is not the thing. The question is, how do we create these products that fulfill our mission, which is to make people healthier at home, or outside, for your teams. So at BreezoMeter, this is all about collecting the data and making it visible.
When we were talking about this earlier, I love all the technologies that I use that show me what's going on, right? So I have this smart scale that shows me every morning, not my weight and my body fat, but I mean the crucial thing it shows me, which is really mean, is how old is your body compared to your real age. And this is just making things visible, making me change things in my behavior. And this is, I think this is ultimately what we're after.
So Onelife is bringing an air purifier to the market. But since our mission is to make people healthier there is this educational part of it. And ultimately a part in this product, that is supposed to change people's behavior, just a tiny little bit, I think this it's super important that when we talk about this mission thing from the top and say it's so important that we talk about health and environmental impact. But this is a very high level. The question is how do you break it down to the product design at the lowest level?
I think this is starting at the mission level is very crucial now to think, okay post-pandemic, where are our users going to go with their demands of companies. But also what do we want to be as a company? For us, it's definitely health at the core, and the environmental impact is the second goal. I think this is very very similar to what you're doing and this is why we're partnering with BreezoMeter because we need the data, we need the education part, we need the behavior change part, and we need a product that actually solves a problem indoors.
So now, if you break it down, we come from the mission to the success factors. How do we measure the output and then how do we define the KPIs? This is really tricky to balance the business with the mission. This is something I have to repeat, especially when we talk about environmental impact, that, no, businesses have to make profits, and these profits have to be reinvested to actually fulfill the mission. If your mission is really good then it makes sense that you use your profits to help that mission in the next generation. So successful companies, business-wise, can push their mission further, and that's why they need to be successful. And this success, if it's in line with the mission, should enable product design to be on a different level.
I think breaking this down now means product design in the next generation is all about changing little things in the behavior of users. And this is really tricky to do, and that's why many people don't try to do it. But this is what we're after at Onelife, and so we have to kind of balance how do we make people healthier. We had an incredible performance technology but how do we turn this into a product that sits well in the context of where people are using it?
So this is a bamboo case, it's made of wood. That's not a typical purifier. Then we have recycled plastics. Okay, so we got environmental impact parts in the materials we use, then you don't have to replace the filter. Okay, that's from the technology side. But the real question was, okay so there's also the design element and we need to look at where are users using this and when and how, you know? For me one of the major contexts is, I work out at home, I have a Peloton bike there, so I want my purifier to deliver clean air while I'm breathing heavily because I know this is crucial for my health. So we had to deliver the context of a workout, which is very different from the other context I love it in, while I sleep. When you're sleeping you want this to be absolutely quiet.
So all these things had to go into the product design. But really, starting at the mission, does it make people healthier and keep the environmental impact as low as possible? That's the framework for the design. And then we end up in the specific context of our users. And yeah, it's fascinating to see that we have users, the majority of our users are like 25 to 35 years old. That's not a high-priced, high-performance tech product. That's not usually your target group. But it's awesome because they tell us what to do, you know?
I think this is the next generation where we need to go to is - who is actually designing this? So if your goal is to improve health, who's helping you design things that ultimately change behavior? For that, we need the feedback loop with the user. But so the question is if it doesn't change behavior can this improve health and how would it do so?
Yair: Yeah that's definitely, for us as well. I mean, changing behavior is the holy grail of product success. And this is really what we were trying to describe. It’s a two-step process in a way. We're starting with aligning or focusing on health. And really, it doesn't mean that all product managers online here are from the health industry. I think improving health can be, even if you're designing a news website, I mean, it applies to every product. I don't want people online to think oh it's easy for these guys because they're one is the CEO of a successful air purifier company and the other is doing air quality data, right? So that's one thing, focusing on health gives you the right perspective on how the steps will look like. I think that's important.
Health-Focused Design Can Change User Behavior
The second part is thinking about how do you blend into your users’ routines and catch tiny habits, as BJ Fogg would call them at the persuasive lab at Stanford? I actually have a nice story about this, where occasionally I managed to catch users for a quick introduction online. If you're interested in that ping me and I’ll and I’ll send you the template, which was highly successful to engage users and just really having a zoom conversation. But that's a different story.
So I meet this couple. This really nice couple. They're 25 years old from South Carolina. And they were using Apple's weather app. And they are not interested in the air quality at all. I mean, these are people who just check the weather, and what apple actually did is, above a certain threshold they push upwards the air quality part in the app, so that caught their attention. And they were curious because it's designed in a smart way. They were like, okay that's interesting, why is their quality not so good? We thought it's okay outside, I don't smell anything, this is what they said.
And then they clicked, they came to our website, and you know, it even triggered their curiosity even further, they saw the map... and at some point yeah, they had questions about their quality and we ended up having this conversation. But just by engaging you could tell that, from this point forward air quality is definitely in their mindset. Such a simple trick from Apple actually drove these people's habits just a little bit towards the healthier side.
And there we go. With tiny habits, in the long term, it might sound strange, but in the long term, we actually prolonged this young nice couple from South Carolina, we actually prolong their life possibly. We know the statistics. So it's really really mind-blowing how their life changed. Not dramatically. That's not the purpose, right? But they definitely became fans. That was a nice experience.
Christoph: Yeah that's awesome. That's exactly, I mean, how it should be, right? You talking to the users directly is something you don't see that very often companies do that still. But I think in the beginning you said there’s this whole ecosystem that we're in. There are different products that kind of align with the same mission. I think between Onelife and BreezoMeter this was very clear from the beginning. Oh yeah, we're working on the same goal from two very different angles. So there was no question that in our app we wanted all your data, and also we want to have events like this because simply talking about this being important make a difference already.
This is the behavior change we want. The awareness part is super interesting, and then I think what you just displayed is the the the approach to say, we pick up users where they are instead of building a completely new thing outside of the ecosystem. We picked them up where they were. This is why the Onelife X is home-kit ready. I mean this is a lot of effort. And it takes time and it's expensive to make it home-kit ready meaning: it connects to all the devices around and it exchanges data. Because what do I want? I want to see what's going on. I want a complete display of my health when I look at this data.
So what you do is help me when I walk around outside or train for a marathon, right? Where should I run? Well, you have all the data to tell me that. Then there is the data that comes out of my home. Just bringing all this data together and showing me what's going on is already making a difference. For that, we don't need to start from scratch. For that, we need to just connect what's out there already. I think this is a beautiful guideline for product designers. Pick people up where they are and take them one step further. And then they learn, and then ultimately, this leads to saving lives while protecting the planet, which is what we're in for. This is the mission.
Ronit: Such a good line. What a note to end on. Super interesting guys, thank you so much. As I mentioned we're gonna jump to the QA portion. I have to stop sharing so I can see the QA. So it's just going to be us and you, but please start sending in your questions. As I mentioned. we'll take in as many as we can get in the time, and if we don't get to your question someone will follow up with you after. We'll share a place where you can reach out to Chris also if you have questions specifically for him.
Here's one question:
For you guys, product dev spans so many different departments and people. Have you got any advice for helping others outside my team to understand the balance between mission and business goals? For example, helping to communicate why we need to prioritize certain features over others and helping them understand the broad vision?
Christoph: This is a super important and very hands-on question because in daily life this is much harder than we make it sound. It's easy to talk about this as, yeah you just need to find a balance between the business goals and the product design the feature side, and then the impact side. But no. This is of course not easy, and this is a constant negotiation. Totally okay that this is a negotiation. You have basically different proportions, but you will end up with a balance that you have to find, and this is ultimately the outcome of a negotiation.
I think one thing that really helped our team is to always come back to the question that the mission provides. This is basically a decision. If we discuss a new feature is this gonna make anyone live a healthier life? If not, then maybe the feature is not something that has to be prioritized over other features. So a feature that will make people healthier ultimately will always win. This might be an educational feature though. This might be us using a different feature in the app. This might be something that changes behavior a little bit. But this also triggers everything that happens in marketing.
It's super interesting that all these divisions are of course interconnected, so it’s not only what you design in the product but, how you communicate it that is part of the brand. Ultimately, everything comes back to the brand and the brand follows that one question that comes out of the mission. I think this is the hardest part to find that question that is your decision-making framework. But once you have it a lot of decisions become a lot easier.
Yair: Yeah you definitely nailed that. I keep thinking if I was a director of product at Netflix would I, at some point, ban users from using Netflix anymore because you've been watching, binging for 48 hours, right? Obviously, that will never be easy, and you can find the same examples probably in so many products. But I think ultimately if you find the right balance, you're actually, in the end, creating a better product. People will appreciate it I think. I'm absolutely sure the younger generation will not use products the same way us dinosaurs are using them.
They are more conscious of health. Definitely the pandemic has exposed a lot of the problems that we have around our environment, in technology. Yeah, people interact, but still, they're lonely. You cannot avoid the ethical aspect of it. We were talking just before the webinar that this is a bit depressing. I apologize to the listeners but, to send you away with maybe a more optimistic message, it's moving in the right direction. Nobody would have this discussion even five years ago. Every organization you can think of was so focused and aggressive about business and goals and KPIs that were absolutely blind to the health of people. You have so many examples, right? From cars down to big internet companies and social networks. They’re a bit moving in that direction. We're not in a good place but that's improving.
Christoph: I'm hopeful too. I mean, I'm totally optimistic about where this is heading and I think we're shifting and users are the drivers of this. We're shifting from companies making money and then using that money to fulfill their responsibility somehow, you know, the corporate social responsibility thing where, oh we made this much money in the markets so now we take that money and help a little bit, towards companies that say we want to help as much as we can but we also have to make money. But really the goal is to make a difference.
And we see more and more companies going in this direction and that makes me hopeful. Where they're coming from we don't know yet. But I have really high hopes for the next generation to shift that money-making is not the purpose of a company. That's not the purpose of a society. And that's not the purpose of us as humans on this planet, to make money. No, we improve we have progress, we have an evolution of making things better for everybody. That's the ultimate goal. And everybody, every individual, every company, and every society is trying to help in that direction. Make things better. And then, to make that happen, we need money. That's the vehicle. That's necessary but it's sufficient.
Yair: Yeah absolutely.
Ronit: Well, on that optimistic note, we'll keep it happy at the ending. We are coming to our end, so if you sent in a question we will follow up with you after. I want to give a big thanks to Yair and Chris. Thanks so much for joining us today. Super interesting. And thank you all for joining us. We will see you at our next webinar. Bye, everyone!