Kien Beyond Sound





Kien is a Dutch startup that makes dyanamic portable speakers that are meant to be used both in and outside of the home. They boast high quality sound and craftmanship. In contacting us, they wanted an examination of their current customer experience, with a digital focus, as well as guidance on how it could be improved.

Project length: 4 weeks.


Research Methodology

From running a sucessful Kickstarter campaign, Kien had many clients - or perspective clients - but none who were actually using the speakers yet. However, it was clear that there was interest in the product and it's unique features. In our research we knew we wanted to speak to those who had backed the campaign as well as those who had purchased competitior products.

As design research lead on the project, I wanted to widen the scope of those who would participate in our in-depth interviews beyond obvious connections to the product. In order to try to approach this in a new way, I combined the design techniques of Audience / Stakeholder Mapping from Universal Methods of Design with the classic Define Your Audience technique from IDEO. This helped us to imagine the scope of our audience as a team and was an effective way to develop our target interviewees while also expanding our knowledge of ways to enhance our research spectrums.

As a company, Kien also has the burden of sitting in a very oversaturated market with some large name competitors. As a part of our research, we completed a journey map of the current process of buying Kien and compared it to the experiences of buying speakers from the Apple store as well as B&O Play. We ordered products online and went physically to the stores to compare those experiences as well.

Analogous Inspiration

Kien has no brick-and-mortar stores and thus sells everything online. We realized that they are essentially asking customers to buy their audio products without ever listening to them first. It became a responsibility of ours to figure out how we can enable potential customers to experience the speakers without being able to hear the actual sound quality. To inspire us, we decided to put ourselves in a situation where we were experiencing something without one of our senses. In our case, we decided to have a blind dinner.

One of our team members facilitated (and therefore kept his sight) while we were blinded before entering his apartment for dinner. Half of us never having been there before, we experienced both overwhelming imagination at picturing what our surroundings might be, coupled with the difficultly of actually trying to eat while blind. Through this activity, we were able to broaden our perspective on our research while gaining genuine empathy into elements of what Kien's customers may experience.


Themes & Insights

Tackling the overall experience of Kien as a brand was a huge undertaking and thus the insights we gained from our research spanned several different areas and topics. Primarily, we indentified a huge issue in asking customers to buy a sound system online, as those who are purchasing at the high price point that Kien has, tend to research potential products thoroughly and want to try them out physically. To meet this need we felt that we had to not only be able to get the product into the hands of consumers but we also needed to create an experience around Kien that positioned them in unique place in the market while building brand trust.

In an extention of the issue of a lack of brand around the product, the message around how and where to use a Kien speaker was cloudy. The messaging at the time had a focus on how to use Kien outside of the home. However, we found that many users who would purchase a high end product like Kien, wouldn't want to take it outside for fear of it becoming damaged. Furthermore, similar home speakers are offering more competitive prices and already have many loyal customers. It became clear that a modification on both price and message was necessary. 

Opportunity Areas

Enable customers to experience Kien in a way that gives them confidence to purchase. Develop a story and brand that exists around the product.

Improve the online purchase process so it is both seamless and foolproof. Include positive surprises in the journey. 

Demonstrate the aspects of flexibility of the product beyond simply saying what they are. Clearly communicate unique features.




Our approach to prototyping evolved over many stages. Initially, we set out concept testing but in such a way that our objectives were not obvious (i.e. our concept was an option hidden among many options that participants could choose from). We tested this both with quick-and-dirty in-person prototypes as well as by buying ads on social media sites and measuring response data.

In terms of the technical UX and UI aspects of our solutions, we tested first with paper prototypes before moving to digital protoyptes with ever-evoling sophistication as our proposal became more refined.


Concept #1

In our first concept pitch to the client, we proposed a new service-based model for Kien as a brand. Re-focusing on the use of Kien speaker within the home, we created a program in which users can subscribe to the hardware of the speakers for a lower monthly fee, enabling Kien to reach a wider scope of users and positioning themselves uniquely within the market. To add to the service aspect, Kien would also become facilitators of party, music, and movie events within the user's home. On a monthly basis, Kien users can choose extras to add to their subscription. For example, if you're having a party with your speakers during your next subscription month, you can choose a theme and Kien will send you extra goodies to help make that party a success. This all comes together to become "sound as a service".


Concept #2

In our second concept pitch to the client, we wanted to tackle specifically the need for potential customers to try out Kien speakers physically. With "Experience Kien", users can borrow a Kien speaker from anyone who has one closeby to try them out. Trying the speakers out is free, though a credit card must be provided in case damage should occur. This concept has the dual benefit of letting new customers experience the product while enabling early stage backers, who are already passionate about Kien, to become brand ambassadors.