Great Expectations! Design for DCX…Lessons I Learned from Reading Comic Books.


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This past weekend was our annual winter scouting trip, where I host a group of Boy Scouts and adult co-troop leaders at my cabin in the snowy heights of the Allegheny Mountains in southwestern Pennsylvania. It is a annual ritual camping trip where we practice winter survival skills and deep snow trekking in the daytime and then relax and detoxify ourselves from technology in the evening, something that is not unlike an intervention for the boys and adults who because we are in so remote a location, there is no Internet or phone connectivity available for us to use our Tablets and Smartphones. What we attempt to do instead is play board games, cards games, share stories and eat food. Everyone tries hard, but you can still feel that some void is hanging like a heavy fog in the air…we miss the comforting social connectivity that we each get from our digital devices. I’ve noticed this happen at our past get winter camping trips so this year I decide to try something new. I leave a pile of classic comic books from the 1960’s and 1970’s on the coffee table. Both boys and adults alike find themselves picking them up and leafing through the thin, colorful publications, at first casually glancing at the artwork and calling out to each other who can spot the most outrageous drawing, storyline or advertisement for an absurd too-good-to-be-true product. There is much laughter and one-up-man-ship discussion on whether something found in their comic book is even feasibly possible or if someone would be actually be gullible enough to buy an advertised wonder product. As the evening progresses, I notice a very interesting phenomenon taking complete hold over young and old in the cabin, an immersive, hours long focused engagement in the comic books, not unlike what I have observed with people using their personal “smart” devices. I start to think this over and come to the realization that there are some pertinent similarities between how these comic books that were crafted on cheap pulp materials and distributed in networks of corner drugstores and magazine stands and how we design and distribute digital products and experiences today over Amazon and the Cloud. Here are a few of these commonalities called out for your consideration:

1. Create and promote objects of great desire for you customers.

iPhones and Bose personal speakers are not as cool as X-ray glasses and tips on how to throw your voice. Back in 1970 you could even order a 7 ft long Polaris Submarine with working missile launcher and torpedoes that would seat 2 for $6.98 plus and additional 75 cents for shopping expenses. Collect payment on delivery option (C.O.D.) was available also as long as you had a dollar to send them in advance to place your order. I couldn’t find this offer on either Amazon or Ebay.

2. Wow them with cool technology.

Ironman’s suit and plasma energy powered heart; Batman with his Batmobile and utility belt; The Green Lantern’s ring; Wonder Woman’s invisible jet; Thors mighty hammer….need I go on?

3. Great storytelling sells and creates a social buzz.

Every comic book has a unique identifier volume and issue number, and is never more than thirty or so pages in length, 5 of which are devoted to really cool product advertisements. They are interesting but light in story, fast and cheap to produce, deliver high entertainment value, and are priced to sell for the masses. Most importantly they never, ever have an ending to the story making it a must-have purchase for you to read next week’s installment. Who is your favorite X-man? Disney grossed over $4.7 billion with its past five Marvel Comic Universe films in the past two years. this figure does not include gaming and additional franchise merchandise revenues. Only professor Xavier could have seen this one coming.

4. Customer journeys have greater impact when you promise to be able to improve someone’s self image.

Tired of having sand kicked in your face? You can change your body image and self-esteem! Try Charles Atlas’ workout and body bulking products and in 10 days you’ll have the body of a Greek god. Lay claim to any girl of your choice on the beach. Fitbits are pretty interesting, but just wearing one isn’t going to get you the girl.

5. Great customer service…there is no risk for trying a new product or service.<a
One comic had an ad for a product that prevented hair loss for just $2. Satisfaction guaranteed or double your money back…a cool 4 dollars! Even Zappos can't promise you that.

So take a moment and make a list of your favorite tech innovator of today and I bet they generally all fall into an age group that grew up reading comics in the 1960's through 1980's. I think they might have been influenced to dream big, invent the unknown, and market their ideas to the masses, mastering well the concepts I have outlined above. I say Excelsior!

Corey Glickman
I am the global lead in Design & Innovation with Capgemini, a $14B solution integration consulting firm. I specialize in the formation of design and innovation programs, providing technology & business leadership experience as an expert in digital transformation, customer experience strategy, design, & the use of visualization. I have won 100's of awards, included being named one of the 100 most influential designers of the decade by AIGA. I currently blog weekly on how businesses are dealing with Digital Transformation, Design & IOT. I am a member of the HBR Advisory Council.


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