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Dan Rubin's SuperfluousBanter

Design, random musings, and the Web. Since 1977


Research: Product Interaction

Design and Marketing

One of the things that keeps me very busy at the moment is writing my thesis,
being a mandatory part of getting my master’s of science degree. I have
a background in Economics but convinced the faculty that design is an economic
entity of importance, especially related to high technology, marketing and branding.
The task was not easy, design is traditionally, within the academic field of
Economics and Business, not looked upon as being a strategic element. Naturally
I begged to differ. Anyway, I was blessed with a supervising professor that
“gets it.” He’s not a designer but a marketing guru, yet he
talks about Apple and Target and the way they used design to differentiate their
offering from competitors. Whenever I have a discussion with him he reminds
me of the fact that design matters, now more than ever.

Product Interaction

Many products, from books to mobile phones, can be purchased online. However,
with product complexity and price increasing the odds of online purchasing diminish.
It may currently not be possible to make the experience of buying a product
online entirely comparable to buying an item at the mall or at a downtown shop,
but present technologies and interactive media allow for stunning possibilities.
Nonetheless, customers still prefer to shop for certain items in a physical
environment, yet innovations in design, business and technology suggest these
conditions are slowly shifting.

Online Product Interaction

Product interaction combines many specific academic fields, even so this thesis
will be restricted to researching the relation of customer experience (marketing),
interaction design (human-computer interaction) and usability (user research)
from a business point of view. This thesis will in addition attempt to assess
the current state of technology as it relates to products and web site assimilation,
including the rate of implementation and adoption of given technologies. But
what exactly constitutes online product interaction? How is it integrated in
the product strategy, and how is customer experience addressed? Examples of
online product interaction can be found on several web sites and do not merely
involve high technology products. Online commerce is here to stay, but is online
product interaction more dream than reality? How significant is the impact on
both seller and buyer? Can technology and design provide companies with the
means to improve the online shopping experience?

Asking For Your Help

I would be interested to hear some general feedback, but more importantly I
would like to gather different examples of online product interaction. Do you
have any good examples? One of the examples I mentioned above is NIKE
. Not surprisingly most interactive product displays use Flash, Quicktime,
Java or similar technologies. What do you think about these elements of interaction?

This item was posted by dhilhorst on Thursday, June 17th, 2004.


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12 comments on “Research: Product Interaction”

  1. Posted by dru on Thursday, June 17th, 2004.

    Cool Thesis. I can’t remember the name of the major company but doesn’t someone have an online fitting store (LL Bean?)?

  2. Posted by dave on Thursday, June 17th, 2004.

    Yeah, that is a cool thesis. Just curious, does your thesis include the concept of customers “free riding” service quality from retail and the price maintance techniques of high end suppliers to prevent this? I was just curious, because that goes hand in hand with online product interaction and is a fascinating concept.

    Landsend.com is a good example, with its virtual model system. I am not sure of any other real good product interaction sites. It is a very interesting thesis and good luck!

  3. Posted by Didier Hilhorst on Thursday, June 17th, 2004.

    dave — At first I thought I understood your question, but after rereading it I’m not sure what or how I should answer. Would you care to elaborate? I’m familiar with the concept of “free riding” and I get the gist of your point, but I’m a bit lost as to the relation to “price maintance techniques of high end suppliers.”

  4. Posted by Nick Finck on Thursday, June 17th, 2004.

    In 2002 I gave a presentation that covered a a verity of things, but one in specific that I used as an example was a service called My Virtual Model which was used at stores like Lane Bryant and Lands End, etc. Basically the user is given the ability to create a model that represents their figure and then they can take the stores product and see how they fit. It was done in Flash and probably some kind of backend scripting. Heres the slide from that presentation: Where we are going.

  5. Posted by els on Thursday, June 17th, 2004.

    Cool! I’m glad you found a professor who let you do this.

    Here’s an example for you. It is a furniture company here in the Boston area. Not top of the line, but they have this surprising feature where you can try out different plans for furnishing your house:


  6. Posted by Joel on Thursday, June 17th, 2004.

    Very interesting thesis. For an interesting example of hybrid product interaction, see http://www.pinggolf.com/flash/webfit.html. You are required to make certain measurements, input the data, and are given a summary sheet that is designed to get a clubfitter started in the right direction. So while you cannot purchase the clubs based on your own measurements, it reduces the time involved in interacting with the clubfitter. Somebody studied queuing theory at Ping.

    Good luck.

  7. Posted by Didier Hilhorst on Thursday, June 17th, 2004.

    Interesting stuff here. Thanks Nick, Els and Joel. The example of Jordans Furniture made me think of another example that really pushed the interaction element: Color Smart found on the Behr.com website. Amazing stuff

    Keep those ideas and examples coming. This is very inspirational, not to mention useful. Also, please include your thoughts about the example. If you think it’s any good, bad or the things you think they fail miserably at (usability.)

  8. Posted by Nakijo on Friday, June 18th, 2004.

    I’ve always loved the fact that I can examine all the mods etc and make the choices required to purchase a Viper or Ram online (actually you can do it for all Dodge models, and I think Chrysler and Jeep as well). The site takes you through the whole process, right down to requesting quotes from different local dealers dependent on their inventories. You can also begin arrangements for finance through the site

    The site is slow, ugly and lacks a DOCTYPE, accessibility considerations etc, but all of those things are fairly common to Websphere sites (from those I’ve seen). I don’t know how many people use it to the fullest extent, but I can see that people would at least pick the mods they want then get their personalised printout. I’ll never be able to afford one, but it is nice to dream

    Holden used to have a much better one which allowed you to manipulate the vehicles by changing the wheels, the viewing angle, colours, trim, body kit, mods etc but that seems to be limited to a membership option since their last redesign because I can’t find it anymore. They have some lame “Configurator” instead that doesn’t even come close to comparing, but the original was very similiar to the NikeID site in terms of ease-of-use and quality. Speaking of which, I love it and I want my shoes. But as usual such things are limited to the US

    I think that would be an important strategy for online sales via interaction. The main consumers that I see initially are the geeks. Techfreaks and webheads are comfortable online, so they are far more likely to purchase; especially through the kind of gimmicky systems that currently exist. As the systems improve, of course, such behaviour may become more mainstream, but offering international service strikes me as important from the start. After all, I know that I’ll never go back to that Nike site (unless for conceptual stuff relating to my work), because it is no use to me directly (being an Aussie)

  9. Posted by Dave on Friday, June 18th, 2004.

    “I’m familiar with the concept of “free riding” and I get the gist of your point, but I’m a bit lost as to the relation to “price maintance techniques of high end suppliers.” ”

    -Sorry if i was not clear. Basically if free riding became an epedemic service retailers would go out of business and high end suppliers would have less possible customers expereincing the supperiority of their products first hand. Thus high end suppliers control this by allowing only small amounts of their products to be sold online which ups the demand and the price respectively. Hope I cleared it up! Good luck on the project!

  10. Posted by Didier Hilhorst on Friday, June 18th, 2004.

    Dave — Ah, I get your point now. Although that’s certainly an interesting topic I don’t think I’ll include it as such in this thesis. I might elaborate on why online product interaction is not yet fully deployed and why companies prefer a multichannel retailing approach (including the reason you mention.) But probably just briefly.

  11. Posted by Rob Cameron on Friday, June 18th, 2004.

    This app just blew me away:


    It’s probably THE best example I’ve seen of transitioning users from print to the web.

    I don’t know if this is related to your thesis, but seeing this for the first time was one of those moments where all I could do was sit back and stare in amazement.

  12. Posted by Tobias on Saturday, June 19th, 2004.

    Two online ‘fitting systems’ that I can remember:

    WrenchScience – http://www.wrenchscience.com/ – have an extensive system to ensure a good fit on different kinds of bicycles.

    NetSmoking – http://www.netsmoking.dk/ – lets you order a smoking with accessories. (In danish, but you should be able to get the idea.)

    No flash or animations. Just step by step measurements.

    But this is really way better that just ordering eg. a pair of pants in ‘Large’ and hope they will fit.