SXSW2012: Don’t Build a Power Glove: Talk to Your Users

SXSW2012: Don’t Build a Power Glove: Talk to Your Users Picture

“Throw away your joysticks, kids,” began the 1989 article of “Design News” praising that year’s must-have Christmas accessory: the Power Glove. At the time it seemed as if traditional video game controllers would soon be a thing of the past. But the Power Glove was anything but a success. While it was a design and technology coup, coolness is unfortunately a poor metric for product success. What the Power Glove lacked was customer insight. During the technology and design crunch nobody stopped to ask, “How is this device for playing games? Do people want to use it?” Thus, the teams rushed blindly into building the wrong thing. Customer insight is the most critical piece of the application and software creation process. You can build something sweet, but if nobody uses it you’re left with little more than a colossal waste of time, effort and money. On the flip side, customer insight applied to the process can result in more customers, increased market share and a better ROI.

RJ Owen

Never start your talk with who you are. Give them a reason to care about who you are.

  • As a developer, you are the first user.
  • Powerglove - 1989 - Video Game Controller
  • First controller that you could wear
  • Uses a sensor bar to detect where it is in space
  • Can detect how your fingers are flexed
  • Two games released - Super Glove Ball (block breaker)
  • Advertising promised a new immersion into games
  • Sketching User Experiences - Bill Buxton
  • The Wizard - Fred Savage Movie, 90 minute movie selling the Power Glove and Mario 3
  • “I Love the Power Glove. It’s so bad!”
  • Power Glove shoulder
  • 7th worst video game controller of all time
  • Japanese producer declared bankruptcy
  • Angered people so much that 30 year old men were complaining about it 15 years later
  • Build off of NASA technology - VPL data glove ($10K)
  • Mattel and AGE had to convert that into a consumer device. Total fire drill. Doing design, software and hardware all in parallel.

Thinking about a new product

  • Three perspective. Business, Technology and Users
  • Business - Why? Raise revenue by x%
  • Technology - How?
  • Users - Who?

Power Glove did this in reverse.

Should be…

  • Define market. Find out how to serve them.
  • Every project starts with people. Who is this for. What is it going to do for them?
  • Find the right problem to solve.

What would happen if Nintendo had done a short study prior to building the Power Glove?

  • Small sample Size (5-7)
  • Qualitative, not quantitative
  • Get the designer out of his / her head

Five families, $50 each for 1 hour

  • Last game, who do you play them with, etc.
  • Examine the relationship between a controller and a video game
  • Done in the context of the family, with parents involved. When you are buying a game, who makes the decision?


  • Physical context - comfortable room, basement, cords all over, sometimes confined spaces
  • Social context - direct manipulation is better with friends, kids more willing to move with others present
  • Distractions - stuff going on while the games are going on
  • Glove would be valuable when the hand is involved

Nintendo thought about players as Lucas Barton.

  • Direct manipulation is real great, but boil it down to one action
  • Provide good constraint, margin for errors
  • Clear link between action and game
  • Make it a social activity

Nintendo got it right with the Wii

  • Social
  • Constrained
  • Actions make more sense

Now what, Nintendo?

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  • G. Brad Hopkins
  • About Me: I bought my first computer - an Apple Performa 6320 - when I was in college and have been building websites ever since. These days I spend most of my time writing code and helping to bring interesting projects to life.
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