In today's economy, many companies may not be in a position to introduce entirely new offerings. However, though holding to core principles and applying their passion toward incremental improvements, companies might well be shaping iconic product lines with lasting impact.
Companies that are passionate about their offerings can be found continually improving their products or services openly in the marketplace. Take the BMW GS line of motorcycles. BMW was clearly in a position a few years ago to just hold in place with the design of what was arguably the finest adventure touring motorcycle on the market. And yet, the company continued listening to riders and dealers. Each year they made some subtle and not-so-subtle ergonomic, stylistic and performance enhancements as they refined the GS line. To be sure, some years brought more refinements than others but overall the pace of refinement was notable. Despite all of the refinements, BMW actually managed to reduce the weight of the GS as well, evidence of another notable trait. The ability to balance principled design thinking with passion. In this case they enthusiastically introduced new refinements while holding themselves to what is undoubtedly one of their core principles of "rideability."
This kind of subtle improvement year-over-year impresses and inspires. And the beauty of it is that companies stick to it, they can find themselves with loyal followers that are secure in the journey they are taking with the company. They know that changes in the product will be well thought out and align with their passions.
Once an offering reaches a certain level of success, it is often all too easy to hold off on further refinement due to either economic pressures or what sometimes proves to be a paralyzing fear of not wanting to "mess with success". The fact that companies like BMW remain committed to constant product improvement guided by underlying guiding principles of design that allow them to refine and stay on course, shows just how important a role that both passion for riding and design thinking has in their culture.
As they nurture an offering, they can take comfort in the fact that they will be able to look back at a series of world-class offerings that, taken together as a whole, leave a greater impression on the market place than many initially hot selling offerings that either are innovated past by their creators or fade into obscurity over time due to a lack of persistence in the marketplace.
One can see a similar balance of passion and principled design thinking with Apple's iPhone refinement. The experience of the original iPhone was largely translated seamlessly into the 3G unit while new features were introduced, including location awareness enhancements. One important factor here is that while new features are certainly marketed, the nuances are left to be discovered in the context of use. Prompts for the iPhone to use location services are initially encountered naturally within the maps application leaving users with a nice discovery at a moment of maximum emotional potential rather than burdening them with some extended step-by-step set up wizard sequence. Similar moments of delight are undoubtedly experienced by GS riders when they realize while at freeway riding speeds that they have a sixth deeper gear they can shift to.
In this era where innovation is constantly being touted as the way forward, we could do well to remember that incremental refinement also has its merits, especially when it comes to generating a loyal following and providing users with the confidence to come along on a rewarding ride.
Can you think of other products that show evidence of inspired refinement or companies that are doing a great job of prototyping and refining in the marketplace?