Much of modern American society is designed around the car, and the trend toward greater density and urbanization requires new ways of thinking about transportation, traffic patterns and parking space. The challenge? Life in densely-populated areas does not always include a personal vehicle. It’s in this gap – between existing product options and people’s needs and desires – where Dr. Beth Altringer, a Harvard University professor and renowned desirability expert, develops products based not on mere functionality, but on the underlying psychological needs of people with different lifestyles and values. The result is profitable, forward-thinking products and services that address the challenges of modern society.
With Piaggio Fast Forward, Altringer helped create Gita, a rolling autonomous robot, that carries more than 40 pounds of cargo while using sensors to navigate its way around congested city streets. In developing Gita, Altringer first identified a concrete need: to carry things without having a transport vehicle. “Gita exemplifies this vision of a more human-centric city because it is specifically designed for neighborhood-scale distances, and to carry the most common loads of cargo,” said Altringer. Beyond the usefulness of Gita, this story provides an important lesson to product developers in every industry about how to incorporate desirability into their work: always think in terms of unmet needs and desires, rather than merely of improving existing products.
Altringer’s focus is on the widest possible range of human desire, rooted in psychology, as she explains in her keynote presentations. Often, the way forward is to look at a routine task, like carrying cargo, and question how it can be done in a way that fulfills desires, instead of making an undesirable solution slightly more palatable. People know what they need – but not always what they truly want at a subconscious level. Beth Altringer helps developers reach the inner depths of consumer desire, and designs products that not only solve problems, but define lifestyles.