The Industrial Frontier

In one industry after another, people fantasize about the perfect product or environment. It may be the worker on the job, the man­ager who does not sleep at night, the family member who wishes that a spouse could return earlier and less fatigued from work, or the chil­dren who wish their parents could attend their hockey games. sometimes, the fantasies are in direct conflict. Joey wishes he could work better hours. He is the master of his job and competition is scarce, but he is concerned about burnout. sal wishes there were three guys who could run his lateral cutter so he could pay the oper­ators less and reduce his cost, have more options for who is working, and rotate his crew to limit burnout. The important thing to realize is that fantasy and value expectations are now desired in the realm of business-to-business products and services. The fantasy economy has expanded from the home and into the workplace.

Jeff Calhoun, vice president of product development for labora­tory equipment company VistaLabs, says that industrial products are the “last frontier” in new-product development. The B-to-B product domain in general suffers from a lack of good design, a lack of atten­tion to the experience of use, and a general lack of connection to the user. The goal, then, is to tame the industrial frontier. To take the wild landscape of mundane and functional but undesirable technologies and transform it into an oasis of user experience, of fantasy.

Many industrial technologies are mass-produced but are usually designed and manufactured with a cost-cutting commodity mind-set. A bolt is a bolt is a bolt, so the company that makes them cheapest will sell the most. But someone will be the first to design a bolt with attention to ergonomics of use, with color codes that instantly communicate different thread sizes, and with a brand identity that associates those innovations with the company that makes them. That company will find itself with growing profits while everyone else des­perately works to stay in the black by continuing to cut production costs. In other words, the form and function will create value for both the company and the purchaser.