#3 Diagrams for Modern Life — Avoiding disappointment
Founder / Creative Director
Gartner’s hype curve is a great way of describing people’s attitudes to new technology - the anticipation, the (potential) disappointment and then adoption.
It really focusses minds when everyone in the room is concentrated on avoiding the ‘trough of disillusionment.’ Hype Curves also gets people thinking about how technology has a way of becoming popular for reasons you didn’t expect - SMS for texting, Google Glass in surgery (briefly), Lunar module heat shields for frying pans (apocryphally).
I regularly use Hype Curves for sectors outside of tech, to help clients think about where they might be over inflating their ambitions or, more importantly, their customers expectations. If you don’t deliver on your promise out of the gate then things are going to be difficult.
A hype curve is most useful for getting the people marketing the product aligned with the people designing and building the product. Making sure throughout the conception, design and launch of a new product that you aren’t ‘writing cheques your arse can’t cash’ is critical. And so often overlooked.
The main reason I like Hype Curves so much is because, like business, it’s a rollercoaster.
A Gartner hype curve (or hype cycle) represents the evolution, acceptance and societal integration of a particular technology or cluster of related technologies. It was created by Gartner, an American firm. Like any great diagram, it marries a graphical and conceptual overview of the developmental stages of emerging technologies, delineated across five distinct phases:
Innovation or technology trigger / Inflated expectations / Trough of disillusionment / Slope of enlightenment / Plateau of productivity
Innovation or technology trigger - Excitement bubbles up and causes a stir as a new potential innovation or technology slides into the public sphere. Often there is no physical product and the commercial viability is completely unproven, but despite this, the early proof-of-concept stories and media coverage cause an explosion in publicity.
Inflated expectations - Early publicity builds on success stories and big claims – if you are Google this keeps you looking innovative and in the conversation, which probably offsets any downsides further down the line. If you're a start up this is great for attracting investment, talent and early adopters.
Trough of disillusionment - Stories of failure or disappointment start to outweigh the successes and interest wanes. Products fail to deliver on their earlier promise (VR headsets might be at this point right now) or completely underwhelm and you get a bashing in social media. Because everyone loves a failure. Investment continues only if businesses can demonstrate a roadmap to improving their products. Money gets burned. Nerves get frayed.
Slope of enlightenment - Companies finally start to deliver on early promises that sparked the initial interest. Understanding and knowledge spread leading to an increase in interest once more. Successive iterations are produced, either by the original inventors or by copy-cats, and these improve further on the original. More pilot projects are funded, though a significant proportion of conservative companies hold fire.
Plateau of productivity - Mainstream adoption gains momentum as the criteria for evaluating provider viability become more defined. The technology’s widespread market applicability and significance are yielding positive results. If the tech extends beyond niche markets, it will continue to grow.
No, of course not.
A hype curve isn’t considered a scientific method and obviously it’s not set in stone. But I have experienced it with an early Internet of Things (IoT) client EVRYTHNG (acquired by Digimarc in 2022). EVRYTHNG promised that any product you could think of, that knows where it is and who you are, could provide an amazing personalised experience. People everywhere would be engaging in in all kinds of brand building multimedia shenanigans with bottles of ketchup, beauty products, shoes, fridges… Didn't happen. But five years on Iot gained traction in logistics, supply chains and anti-counterfeiting.
Apple’s iPhone never hit a trough - only now is it beginning to slowly decline. The iWatch took a minute to get going but is now the most popular watch on the planet. But you’ve got to wonder about its new Vision Pro. We’re in Occulus (Metaverse) territory. A lot of hype right now.
As a tool for businesses launching new products or testing ideas, a hype curve is really useful. It makes you think like a customer. Businesses create a lot of hype and expectation, it’s how you get momentum, gain investment and attract talent and customers. Just make sure you avoid the TROUGH.