We see companies wrestle with decisions about investing in product design often. It’s well documented that good design wins market share and builds brands. However, does a company invest in a subtle evolution or a deeper, blank-page approach? Thanks to a recent conversation, we’re fortunate to be able to share a product design success story of taking the blank-page approach, following a design process informed by key research to gain insight before applying solutions.
We had the opportunity to check in on one of our favorite projects recently. The story started six years ago when we were contacted by 19th Hole Cart. If you haven’t heard of 19th Hole Cart, you’re not alone, neither had we. It turned out that 19th Hole Cart is one of only a couple companies that manufactures beverage carts for golf courses, in this case in partnership with E-Z-GO®. Who wouldn’t jump at the chance to redesign the familiar golf course beer cart?
Five years after the product launch, we met with John Sido, Marketing Director at 19th Hole, to get his take on the design process and market response to the FLEXSERVE™ refreshment center.
Juggernaut: Why did you call us with this project?
19th Hole: You know, we started with an original thought and then we looked at it and said to ourselves, this is something that is close to being in the right direction, now we have three choices: try do do it ourselves, find some expert help, or shelve it and just update our current product. We decided that we needed to innovate but that there was no way we have the skill to execute it so we started looking for the right help.
Juggernaut: Why did you choose Juggernaut?
19th Hole: I think Michael (Michael White, 19th Hole CEO) found the right match. Juggernaut understood very quickly what we wanted to do. We brought you a sketch and some ideas and I just could tell by the process and how you develop a design that we were on the right track. The product really was formed by some of those early user interviews and visits to courses for observation.
Juggernaut: What was your expectation at the start of the project?
19th Hole: We knew that if we did this right, we were going to earn a piece of the market. We had the confidence that the product design could not just get us more sales but re-position our company. You hope you make the right decisions and that the result is going to do all these wonderful things, but we underestimated what ultimately happened.
Juggernaut: What was the process like?
19th Hole: The first steps involved gathering information, we set-up interviews and shadowed users who had lots of experience with the existing cart. We also created an ‘inventory’ list of what the cart needed to hold. Juggernaut was careful to not jump into the design before gathering information or diagnosing before prescribing. When we saw the first full size mock-up we knew that we had something.
Juggernaut: Why do you think the project succeeded as it did?
19th Hole: When I look back and think about how it succeeded, I would say it was the industrial design process, you didn’t jump to a conclusion before first considering its use and the user. We wanted you to go faster, but I felt that you were staying design neutral until you had enough information to determine a direction.
Juggernaut: Well, let’s get to the big question. How has the product been received?
19th Hole: We thought we had something pretty good, but we absolutely changed the industry. I think the product probably jumped three generations ahead. It’s like people are looking at it like the first time you saw a color TV or an iPhone. It was one of those transitional moments. At the PGA Show (the golf industries biggest event) we literally had people stopped in the aisle, looking at this thing as if it was the first color television.
Juggernaut: What have you heard from users since the launch?
19th Hole: One thing that we hear again and again, every time we show the product to users and club managers, is a common theme of, “Wow, I’m so impressed, this cart makes so much sense, everything else we’ve ever used didn’t really work for us.” Golf is a luxury market and the FLEXSERVE™ design is seen to help promote that luxury experience. Food and Beverage managers really understood the benefits. They saw it as a food service tool, a food and beverage platform. Design perception is key. The positive perception of the design created a completely different customer response. It used to be that the first questions would be about cost. Now they want to know all about the features and the last question is how much and when can I get it. The design created a pull and somewhat marketed itself.
Juggernaut: Where is 19th Hole today?
19th Hole: If you go back to the original user interviews, respondents said they wanted to be received as professionals. The design satisfied all those requirements allowing them to do their job better. Everybody wants a nice-looking product but it’s more than that. We’ve created an emotional response. You hope for a home run, one super feature, but we’ve got many home runs, significant design features that nobody else has. When people go to a place (a golf course) they have a brand expectation. This product helps build a course’s brand promise to the members. Does that make sense? Yeah, a great design helps our customers fulfill their brand promise. I think the part that sneaked up on us, that we didn’t see from the beginning, was the role of the designer not only in how it looks and functions but how it relates to the image the club wants to present.
Juggernaut: What has this meant for your business?
19th Hole: We have the best product in the marketplace, the best design, best quality, best functionality. We are considered the ‘Experts in Mobile Refreshment’ and use this tagline in our marketing. We have received several utility and design patents which will help us to protect our position and leverage future product expansion.
Juggernaut: We loved being a part of the project – thank you.
19th Hole: We are so satisfied with the process and the result!
Success from an investment in design happens more often than you might think. There are the high-profile cases, such as Apple’s original iPhone, but there are many more cases that we don’t hear about, such as our friends at 19th Hole. We can’t claim all the credit here. They came to us, and had the courage to trust our process. There are a number of good industrial design firms in the United States, and I’ll humbly place ourselves among them, however it takes both parties to have success. If you have the vision to transform your company, industry or market, good design can deliver on that objective.
JUGGERNAUT DESIGN is an authority in rugged design, bringing innovation and expertise to products that must survive challenging environments across commercial and defense applications.