Ego-centric Design & Faulty Assumptions: A Case Study

The $400 Juicero juicer

Do you remember Juicero? It was a Silicon Valley born juicer that raised $120m in capital from large investment firms, including Google Ventures. It began selling units in March 2016, and has been defunct as of December 2017.

It had an infamous (and humorous) death when Bloomberg posted a devastating video revealing that hand-squeezing the Juicero-exclusive juice packs yielded identical results as with the $400 juicer.

Beyond the obvious failure of being an overpriced, superfluous product, Juicero clearly did not take a user-centric approach to design. Maybe ego-centric though?

For example, just taking a look at Juicero’s assumptions will reveal how severely misguided their design process was. Let’s take a look at some of those assumptions, and what an hour of research would have revealed instead.

Assumption #1: Obesity and Nutritional challenges are caused by lack of fruits and vegetable intake.

Juicero CEO Jeff Dunn responded to the Bloomberg video in a Medium post, stating that his mission is “solving some of our nation’s nutrition and obesity challenges.”

We all know the health benefits of taking in whole foods, fruits, and vegetables, so I wouldn’t say this assumption is egregious. But research from the National Institutes of Health and RAND states:

“While some differences in weight are evident between groups based on race and education levels, all Americans have been getting fatter at about the same rate for the past 25 years, even as the nation saw increases in leisure time, increased availability of fruit and vegetables, and increases in exercise.”

They even suggest that new strategies should explore “replace[ing] calorie-dense foods with fruits and vegetables, rather than just add[ing] fruits and vegetables to the diet.” So I guess adding $400 juice to your diet wouldn’t have helped with obesity much after all. Wild.

Assumption #2: People don’t eat more fruits and vegetables because they don’t have the time.

In the post referenced above, Dunn offered a users stories such as these:

“…a frazzled dad to do something good for himself while getting the kids ready for school, without having to prep ingredients and clean a juicer.”

“…the busy professional who needs more greens in her life gets App reminders to press Produce Packs before they expire, so she doesn’t waste the hard-earned money she spent on them.”

A Health Education Research study reveals the most common perceived barriers to taking in more fruits and vegetables (spoiler: it’s not time):

“Women reported that children and male partners were obstructive to their attempts to eat more fruit and vegetables, whilst men reported that their partners were supportive of the change.

The perception that fruit and vegetables were expensive was a relatively intractable barrier for those with inflexible food budgets.

Some barriers, including the problem of getting fruit and vegetables when traveling or when the daily routine is disrupted such as at weekends, were not anticipated and only encountered when participants tried to make changes.”

There are many other factors that are more prominent in the minds of potential users than having the time, such as having moral support, being out of town, unanticipated plans, and cost.

I can personally attest to the fact that what ruins a good diet routine for me is traveling. But I can’t imagine towing around a giant juicer with me when I travel. Ironically, I probably would have considered packing a few of the Juicero juice packs with me if I knew I was going to be out and about all weekend long. (Apparently those weren’t sold separately from the juicer though.)

Assumption #3: People who want to lead a healthier lifestyle will pay for it.

The same Health Education Research study reveals:

“Among the barriers identified in this study, the reported high cost and lack of access to fruit and vegetables were among the most intractable. Interventions to increase fruit and vegetable consumption among people on low incomes, or living in socially deprived neighbourhoods, may need to include incentives and delivery schemes as well as motivational advice.”

So even though there are several barriers to taking in more fruit and vegetables, the biggest perceived barrier is the cost of fruits and vegetables.

Juicero isolates a huge potential market just from cost alone. Keeping the cost low would have easily made it into the design constraints (if they had any) had they had their “busy professional” user — who’s apparently so concerned about their “hard-earned money” going to waste that they’d want an app to remind them not to let their juice expire — in mind.

Without any constraints, the Juicero juicer was unnecessarily complex and expensive. Venture capitalist Ben Einstein notes:

“Juicero’s Press is an incredibly complicated piece of engineering”, but that the complexity was unnecessary and likely arose from a lack of cost constraints during the design process. A simpler and cheaper implementation, suggested Einstein, would likely have produced much the same quality of juice at a price several hundred US dollars cheaper.”

In the end, the Juicero was designing a product for themselves — tech nerds in Silicon Valley with money to throw away.

It’s easy to poke fun at Juicero retrospectively, but forgetting to put users first happens everywhere. Erika Hall aptly describes the risks anyone runs when they design solely off of assumptions in her book, Just Enough Research:

“Research is essential to reducing your risk — the risk you incur by relying on assumptions that turn out to be wrong… What potential costs will you incur if, six months from now, you realize:

• You are solving the wrong problem?

• You were working on features that excited you but that don’t actually matter much to your most important customers?

• You failed to reflect what is most important to your users?

• You were wrong about your prospective users’ habits and preferences?”

Well… we know the answer to those questions in Juicero’s case.

This post is in response to this DesignLab prompt: Write a short post on a failed endeavor, either a notable one in business, or one you’ve experienced personally. Think about what faulty assumptions contributed to the failure.

DesignLab Student, Future UX Designer