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How the MAYA principle can help you in business.

Have you ever noticed the subtle, yet noticeable changes in the shape of the Coca-Cola bottle over the years? Distinctive, but always current. As the bottle changes, even without the label, you'd still recognise it for what it is - Coca-Cola.

As your business grows and your products evolve, you want to take your customers with you on a similar journey and you want them to recognise your product or brand even as you grow and develop. But how do you do it in a way which isn't too fast, but is innovative enough to catch their attention? Using the MAYA principle, that's how.

MAYA stands for Most Advanced Yet Acceptable and is a term which was coined by industrial designer Raymond Loewy also known as "The Father of Streamlining" and "The Father of Industrial Design".

Loewy thought:

“The adult public’s taste is not necessarily ready to accept the logical solutions to their requirements if the solution implies too vast a departure from what they have been conditioned into accepting as the norm.”

To a large extent this is right and as business owners it makes sense for us to operate with this in mind when we are thinking about changes we want to make to a product, service or design feature of our business.

To be honest, this logic rings true even when thinking about personal development. Let’s think about it. If you are thinking about building your career and things you can do within your organisation to stand out from the crowd and get recognised as an intrapreneur, you’re going to need to make changes to the way you’ve currently been operating in order to do so. Coming into work power dressing, over talking at meetings and shoving every “great idea” you have down everyone’s throats is not going to be well received by your colleagues if before then you dressed casually, were quiet and didn't initiate or introduce new ideas. Taking a more subtle approach which shows a natural progression in your contributions is likely to be better received and recognised as impactful. Moreover, it will be easier for you to sustain in the long term, giving your efforts more credibility and authenticity.

Similarly, if you have a product which you sell to the public and are looking to either expand your range or update your current offering, a change which is completely left field, shocking and futuristic will not be well received or even recognised by your audience. Whereas, subtle changes to design features which are intuitive to your customers and don’t lead to frustration, are going to ensure you retain current customers who will be comfortable with the changes and happy to see something new and improved. You may also attract new customers who are looking for brands that innovate and offer a little something extra.

Think about how many times you’ve upgraded your phone. Chances are, you’ve stuck with the same make because the changes are small, subtle changes that you can manage. If you’ve ever changed it’s probably been to another phone which is really similar – for example I made the "jump” from a HTC phone to a Samsung and then onto Huawei. To be honest they are all really similar and the switch was so easy and intuitive for me. I never needed to read the instructions or ask for help, I just switched the phone one and got on with it. Now my work phone on the other hand, which is an iPhone, is like operating something in a completely different language. I’ve got no idea what is where and I am constantly threatening to throw it against a wall because it never seems to do what I need. Now all I do with it is make and receive calls! Why? Because as sophisticated and tech savvy as I like to think I am, as Loewy said: “The adult public’s taste is not necessarily ready to accept the logical solutions to their requirements if the solution implies too vast a departure from what they have been conditioned into accepting as the norm.” I’ve been conditioned into accepting Androids as my norm. In a similar way, as business owners we need to recognise what our customers have been conditioned into accepting as their norm and make our changes and innovations within those parameters.

However, this awareness shouldn't scare you away from innovating and moving things forward. Innovation is necessary and customers want to see change. If you want your product or service to be a household name and part of your customers' household, it needs to grow and develop with them over the years. If you fail to make any changes to your brand, design, product or service, it will feel as if your brand is stagnant, it isn’t moving, has nothing new to offer and will not appeal to any audience.

Below are a few things to think about when considering how to ensure your product is MAYA proof:

  1. Small changes = small wins. Are their small variations in design you can provide, which will be well received by your current customers and also attract a new audience? For example, if you sell bracelets with empowerment quotes on them, can you introduce necklaces with empowerment quotes on them? Think about the variations in iPods: their shape, size colour and user features. The product is the same, but it has gone through slight design and functional variations and improvements over the years.

  2. How far is the next stop? If you are about to introduce a

change to your current offering, ask yourself, how far removed from my current offering is this new product or service? The further away it is from the current offering, the less likely it is to be accepted by your customers.

  1. Not yet, doesn’t mean never. If you innovate too fast for current trends and the public are not familiar with the concept you are introducing, it will be left to the side. Apple’s Newton Tablet is a great example of what can happen when you release something before the public are ready for it. Never heard of the Newton tablet? I wonder why! Timing is so important and if you test the market and it seems like people are not ready yet, be patient, test again, introduce other subtle changes to pique your audience’s interest and then when the market is ready, release your changes. You want to deliver the future gradually and comfortably, not at break-neck speed.

  2. Sorry I can't understand you. If you have to give lengthy explanations or instructions for a product or design change, it’s probably going to be lost on people. Your product should be providing solutions, not problems. So, if you are introducing something new, which takes a lot of explanation, particularly to those that are familiar with your brand, you may need to think about simplifying things.

Overall, remember, change is good. But also remember, your audience needs to be able to enjoy the ride as your brand grows. Take them along with you so that they feel like they are part of the journey and introduce them, slowly, to new concepts and design features. Don’t run before you can walk, but don’t be so afraid to change that your brand becomes stagnant.

Test your market to find the right balance and chances are your new product or design will be a success with your customers.


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