Chic Geek: How research helped define hipness

21 May 2005|Darrel Rhea

We all know that Bill Gates is the media’s favorite nerd, and Microsoft is the media’s favorite evil empire. So this week’s media coverage about the new X-Box 360 introduction represents a seismic shift of these entrenched negative stereotypes. Suddenly, Bill is being characterized as “unleashed,” “hip,” “lose and happy,” and “cracking jokes and making fun of himself.” Time magazine said “somehow humanity’s most famous nerd has become kind of cool.” (Yes, we’re talking about the same Bill Gates that has been demonized decades.)

What force drove this epic transformation? Design. The new X-Box is a multi-billion dollar bet that a stodgy engineering culture within a monolithic global corporation can produce a cultural hip thing of beauty and relevance. So far, the media is declaring them successful, calling
it “cool,” “sleek,” “feminine,” “sophisticated.” And this coolness is creating a positive halo that is coloring perceptions of Bill and his whole enterprise. Time Magazine crows “from geek to chic.”

The hard part wasn’t creating the design. They simply hired some of the best industrial designers in the world, like our friends at Astro. The hard part was listening to them and accepting their work. That’s where design research comes in. Cheskin did research with all types of gamers in Asia, Europe and the US on the new X-Box designs.

What gamers told us was that the elegant console “had to be made either by Sony or Apple.” Bingo! That provided the confidence do an “unnatural act.” That is, it gave a nerdy corporate culture the confidence to accept the authentically cool and hip innovation of their development team.

There are a lot of other reasons why this product is likely to be a success, but if it was as ugly as the first X-Box, it would be a sure failure. Congratulations to the development team for listening to their consumers – and achieving a breakthrough in innovation!

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