In 1991, Apple launched their Powerbook 100, one of the first general-use laptop computers. It was hailed as a marvel of engineering — a full-featured computer the size of a notebook.
The Powerbook 100 was inspired by an internal project put together four years earlier: The Knowledge Navigator. The Knowledge Navigator wasn’t a real machine. Apple would never build or deliver one. It was just a concept showing what a team inside Apple thought computing technology might look like 23 years in the future.
Even though it wasn’t real, the Knowledge Navigator captured the imagination of the Powerbook 100 team. When the team faced a hard decision, they thought back to the Knowledge Navigator concept work. Given their choices, they asked themselves which choice would get them closer to building something like the Knowledge Navigator.
The future experience captured in a story.
The Knowledge Navigator concept is an example of what we call an experience vision. An experience vision is a story that demonstrates what a user’s experience would be like years in the future.
An experience vision doesn’t describe a new product or service. Instead, it shows how a user’s life would change because of the ideas embodied in the vision’s story.
Guiding the hard decisions.
When a team faces a hard design decision, there are questions around criteria they can ask to help them make their decision:
- Which choice would be faster to develop?
- Which choice would be cheaper to manufacture or deliver?
- Which choice would be easier to get into the market?
These are all great criteria to use. However, the Powerbook 100 team’s decision-making criteria came from a different question:
- Which choice would get the team closer to building something like a Knowledge Navigator?
The Powerbook team chose this question to guide their decision-making process. It focused their answers to benefit Apple and their customers, in the long run.
This question put Apple’s customers squarely in the center of the team’s decision-making process. The experience became a way to step beyond incremental-short term thinking.
Apple didn’t have the technical capability or knowhow to build a Knowledge Navigator in 1991. However, their teams could use it as a way to choose which technology to develop. They could take a baby step with every decision they made.
The experience vision gives direction across multiple products and releases.
After the Powerbook 100 came out, we saw Apple’s teams continue to take baby steps towards the experience vision with every new product. The Apple Newton, the MacBook product line, the iPod, and the iPhone all took steps in the direction of the Knowledge Navigator experience.
2010 — the year the original Knowledge Navigator story took place — was the year Apple released the first iPad. The iPad was quite close to the ideas in the Knowledge Navigator.
Starting with the Powerbook 100, and heading all the way up to the release of the iPad, Apple continued to deliver the most innovative products. Looking back, it’s clear that every innovation was influenced by the Knowledge Navigator.
An experience vision gives a team direction. It puts the user’s experience in the center of every important decision. And it drives an organization to deliver innovative products and services every step of the way.
UX Strategy with Jared Spool
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