Can a container be more than a container?

In our previous post, we talked briefly about how the concept of user experience (UX) can help build brand loyalty and create products and services that not only fulfil their functional requirements, but also feel good to use. As a thought experiment, let’s consider some more futuristic scenarios. In our current world, a shipping container is just a container. What if we could turn it into something that would create an experience – and this experience could generate revenue for various players in the logistics chain?

UX future

We are used to thinking of containers as simple boxes that provide no additional value beyond physically conveying things from A to B. Moreover, beyond the generic markings of each shipping company, containers all look alike, irrespective of what goods are being transported. But what if this idea was turned on its head?

What if, in the future, premium sports cars would be transported in beautifully designed transparent containers that announced to everyone that this shipment was really something special? Would this provide a superior experience compared to hiding the car in a traditional container? Would manufacturers see this visibility and experience as supporting their brand image and be willing to pay for it? Consumer electronics companies such as Apple have long understood the value of beautiful packaging as part of the total user experience. Could this be applicable for container logistics as well?

Or, for another scenario, what if shipping containers incorporated display technology – e.g. digital paint – that would enable their colour and/or surface images to be changed? This would turn a nondescript steel box into a smart surface that could advertise the products being transported. Going a step further, what if these smart displays could be linked together, turning the ubiquitous container stacks at terminals into massive, dynamic display matrices, alive with colour and information?

If containers became a form of prime real estate for advertising, subject to the same competitive supply and demand mechanisms as web advertising, it might turn out that the real profit in container logistics was not in the actual shipping of the container at all. If a single container-turned-advertising-billboard on a highway truck sounds radical, imagine a visual surface hundreds of containers wide and dozens high. Now, that would be a wow.

In addition to the obvious commercial applications, this would open up fascinating possibilities for urban design. A technology such as this could increase the transparency of port operations, giving residents and other stakeholders a clear and concrete real-time view of what the port is doing and what kind of value it generates for its community. If a container port were able to generate a visual and conceptual “wow” effect of its own, people might be happy and proud to live next to one.

UX goes far beyond the traditional concepts of usability and ergonomics. It’s not just about designing a crane cabin that is more comfortable to use, but about finding new ways of doing things better. Digitalisation increases the chances of finding these radical innovations since they are more and more about ideas, systems and connections, rather than features of specific physical equipment. What about a world full of autonomous container terminals that were operated by consumers over the Internet in the fashion of a gaming platform? This would create an experience of dancing robots operated by crowd-sourced operators and Artificial Intelligence (AI). Whether this could be a reality is not contingent on hardware capability. It is a question of imagination, digital connectivity and a totally new way of organising an existing industry.

Granted, the ideas outlined above are still somewhat far-fetched, but the general principle holds: It is only a matter of time before someone comes up with a combination of new technology and disruptive business model that will recast our conventional wisdom of how value and revenue are generated in the container logistics chain. And when this happens, it is more than likely that a superior user experience – a “wow” effect of some kind – will be at the core of it.

Author and futurist Arthur C. Clarke famously wrote, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” In consumer products, this sense of wonder is something we have all experienced from now and then, and product manufacturers dream of creating that one groundbreaking device or application that transforms our entire expectation of how we experience our familiar technology. Would it be possible to bring some of that magic into the world of industrial logistics as well? After all, we aren’t creating services and solutions for machines. We aren’t creating them for the industry or the market. We are creating them for people.

This post has been published also at Kalmar’s blog.

Jari Hämäläinen Kalmar

Jari Hämäläinen (Dr Tech.), Director, Terminal Automation, Kalmar, sees interesting opportunities in the digital convergence of ICT, industrial engineering and services. He has led offering development in Kalmar and service concept development in Cargotec. He has a background in the telecommunications and software industries, with over 300 patents in 40 global patent families helping smartphone users in their daily business and pleasure. His passion is to lead renewal through technology and business innovation.

Maaria Nuutinen VTT

Maaria Nuutinen was programme manager of the FIMECC UXUS programme (2010–2015). Her passion is to understand and help human and organisational activity in the context of technology enabled business. She is particularly interested in developing ways for enhancing mind set change and value co-creation based on user and customer experience. Her research interests include organisational culture, change management and service innovations. She is a Vice President in Business, Innovation and Foresight at VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland Ltd. Maaria Nuutinen received her PhD in psychology from the University of Helsinki in 2006.

Twitter: @MaariaNuutinen

Building brand love with superior user experience

We would like to pose a provocative question: Could you make your product or service so great to use that your customers would want to tattoo your logo onto their arm?

In consumer products, customers are happy to display their loyalty to brands that they love and with which they identify. Why couldn’t this be possible in industry applications as well?

Well, in fact it is – and there is a growing body of research that supports this conclusion. The key concept here is user experience, or UX for short. The User Experience and Usability in Complex Systems (UXUS) research programme of the Finnish Metals and Engineering Competence Cluster defined UX as follows:

The User experience (UX) at work is the way a person feels about using a product, service, or system in a work context, and how this shapes the image of oneself as a professional.

The field of UX is based on solid experience and research results that can provide concrete new tools for companies seeking to innovate and renew their business. In industry, the UX framework is still not widely used, whereas in consumer products and services it is often at the very core of product development.

At the heart of UX is putting yourself into the position of the experts that have the most knowledge of how your product works: Your customers, and more specifically, their end users. If you truly understand their world, you can create something that not only works, but also feels good to use, day in and day out.

Word of User Experience.

The UX world. Source: “User Experience and Usability in Complex Systems – UXUS”, Final Report 1/2015, published by FIMECC Oy.

Forget B2B, think H2H

A term that we should bury once for all is “B2B”. Ultimately, it’s always a person using your product, service or solution. So forget about business-to-business, think human-to-human. You are not designing a product for your customer. You are designing it for their users. If you just think in terms of one business selling to another, you will never reach the realm of double-price premium.

Unfortunately, we can’t tell you what the solution is – not for the container shipping industry, nor for whatever other field you may work in. But we can tell you that whoever does come up with that one golden idea will be the one whose offering the customer will want no matter the price, and the customers will be happy to pay extra for using it.

A superlative user experience can’t be something that is just styled onto the final product. It needs to be a core design goal throughout the entire process. You can go beyond a merely well-engineered product (with all due respect to engineers) and create something that truly “wows” the user – and it doesn’t need to add any cost overhead to the development process.

Goal: Make some people super happy

Reaching this level of UX will require providing not what the customer ordered, but something that greatly exceeds their expectations; something they haven’t even imagined yet. We need to deliver more than what the customer asked for. On the other hand, this also calls for great skill as we can’t overstep the project brief or make the customer feel like we are underestimating them.

UX goes beyond traditional concepts of usability, user interface design, industrial design and brand identity. An axiom of good UX design is that we shouldn’t worry about designing a product or solution that makes everyone happy. It is much better to create something that makes some people super happy.

If your customers love using your product – if they feel good about it – they will love your brand. Think about Apple users and their relationship to their tablets, smartphones and computers. Think about Harley-Davidson enthusiasts actually tattooing the logo of their motorcycle on their arm. This is certainly the ultimate victory for any brand. Or is it? After all, the question then becomes how to transfer this brand love to the next, upcoming generation of customers.

What, then, is the equivalent for our industry? It is unlikely that many clients in the container shipping business would want to engrave their service provider’s logo onto their biceps. But if a product or service is so good that people feel great using it, they will want to buy from us – or from you – and price will not be the only deciding factor. How does that sound?

So, the race is on. Who will get there first?

To read more about the possibilities of the UX methodology and research results in the field, visit http://uxus.fimecc.com/tags/ux-booklet

This post has been published also at Kalmar’s Port 2060 blog.

Jari Hämäläinen Kalmar

Jari Hämäläinen (Dr Tech.), Director, Terminal Automation, Kalmar, sees interesting opportunities in the digital convergence of ICT, industrial engineering and services. He has led offering development in Kalmar and service concept development in Cargotec. He has a background in the telecommunications and software industries, with over 300 patents in 40 global patent families helping smartphone users in their daily business and pleasure. His passion is to lead renewal through technology and business innovation.

Maaria Nuutinen VTT

Maaria Nuutinen was programme manager of the FIMECC UXUS programme (2010–2015). Her passion is to understand and help human and organisational activity in the context of technology enabled business. She is particularly interested in developing ways for enhancing mind set change and value co-creation based on user and customer experience. Her research interests include organisational culture, change management and service innovations. She is a Vice President in Business, Innovation and Foresight at VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland Ltd. Maaria Nuutinen received her PhD in psychology from the University of Helsinki in 2006.

Twitter: @MaariaNuutinen