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The secret ingredient for mHealth success

Image Jaguar e-type beautiful design success

courtesy charlo.be

 

In my work I’m often asked “what do I need to do to make my mHealth product a success?” I’ve recently worked out the one essential ingredient that you need to have, and it may not be obvious. Of course, you do need to have a product that works reliably, has a sustainable business model, relevant regulatory approvals and so on – but these are simply baseline requirements that are surely obvious. The real ingredient that is often missing is simple – you have to make your product beautiful – but the reasons why may not be immediately obvious. Let me explain further.

Why is ‘beautiful’ design so important for success?

I’ve always felt intuitively that an elegant design could be very helpful to an mHealth product’s chance of success. I suppose my assumption was that companies like Apple have raised the bar so much in consumer electronics design that the customers have come to expect nice packaging, visuals, smart and sleek design and so on. I think that was a false assumption.

I now realise there are two situations when you must inject an aesthetically pleasing design to your products:

  1. When the product doesn’t actually do very much
  2. When the product does something but it’s essentially boring

So these mHealth products don’t do very much then?

Taking the first point, it’s pretty clear that a lot of mHealth products aren’t really much of an advance at all. Activity trackers are the prime example – mostly they measure steps (which a basic cheap pedometer could do) and measure sleep (but you could log this yourself with a notepad). Some are now adding further features like heart rate monitoring, but most of them just do the steps. However, as a class of mHealth product they are probably the most successful of all so far, having established a $2 Bn market in only a few years. Their saving grace is that they are (mostly) quite elegant wrist-worn devices, and makers like Fitbit, Jawbone and Misfit have rightly focussed on making their products look nice on your wrist. There are some cheaper trackers that do the same job but look ugly – and guess what they don’t sell.

Jawbone UP tracker elegant design mHealth success

The Jawbone UP tracker courtesy Rafiq Sarlie

 

Ok but why are some products ‘boring’?

There’s another class of devices that actually do something really useful but the do this so invisibly or infrequently that they need a nice appearance to reassure the buyer that they’re worth having.

It’s the same problem that companies selling insurance have – you’re selling a product that no one really wants to use, so how do you make your customer feel happy with their purchase? It’s really difficult with an intangible product like insurance to make it attractive, hence they resort to more tangible added value offers like discounts on other products or even Meerkat stuffed toys.

So let’s say you’ve got a connected product like a smoke alarm – how do you make that more interesting? Let’s face it, it’s a product you never really want to have to use but it’s actually incredible important when it is needed. Traditionally smoke alarms have been designed as rather drab items, reflecting a very functional view of their role. But now we’re starting to see rather nice designs like the Nest and Fibaro smoke alarms, which turns these prosaic items into modern objets d’art, which you can admire every day and show off to your friends:

Fibaro smoke sensor alarm elegant design mHealth success

Fibaro smoke alarm courtesy Fibaro

So I just need a beautiful design and success will follow then?

Unfortunately it’s not just as simple as assuming that a beautiful design will translate into immediate sales of your product either. The conclusion of all this is that if you want to compete, you need to get an attractive design. You’re going to face so many competitors who’ve got this right that you will simply be consigned to the dustbin of history if you don’t. I hope that’s not too daunting a prospect.

And in case you were wondering about the photograph of an E-type Jaguar at the top – it’s completely gratuitous but in my opinion the most beautiful ‘product’ ever made.

So what do you think – am I exaggerating the significance of aesthetic appeal or not? Let me know by commenting below.

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