The need is not always easy to find. It could be for a product not yet created or it could be for a feature on an existing product. Either way, it’s like answering a question.
Some products fail because they answer a question that isn’t being asked. Another reason products fail is because they answer the wrong question. And finally, sometimes products fail because they answer a trivial question.
(INSERT: noise of fortune cookie opening) The only way to create the perfect product (answer), is to find the perfect need (question).
Recognizing the need is the primary condition for design.
I can’t think of anything more deflating then an engineer or finance person telling me the design, I’ve poured my heart into, is un-manufacturable or too expensive. To get through this roadblock try comparing it to a game like tennis. You come up with a design, and send it over the “net” to be reviewed and evaluated. Your design hasn’t “scored” until the “ball” stays in their court and they agree it’s worthy of production. It’s your responsibility to not make any compromises, and maintain a level of design leadership. When your unrestrained design breaches the “box” of restrictions, you can either stand firm, or look for alternatives that meet the boundaries. If you stand firm, it requires you to resell your theme with added support and reasoning, sometimes focusing on the R.O.I. will help. If you look for alternatives, then it’s important to find those that exceed your previous concept’s level of execution.
Being a production designer is never easy, restrictions often feel like gravity pulling your ideas back down to earth, but some of the most rewarding/enjoyable designs leave us speechless. They are the ones that have some magical ability to defy gravity. I’ve always felt that our lure, as industrial designers, is to find that realistic solution for the company, yet magical-experience for the customer.
Do you find yourself compromising the original design intent often? How do you stay positive, innovative, and motivated while facing certain manufacturing restrictions?
I came across a great blog by Rebecca, she’s a UI and interaction designer based in the UK. She had a great post today on evolving design practice and the ideal design curriculum. She quotes from an interview with Hugh Dubberly, entitled “Becoming a Digital Designer.” The interview is from 2006, but I found it still very pertinent. Dubberly’s feelings toward design and it’s purpose is right on. Thanks Rebecca for this great find;
I believe design should make the world better. It should serve people.
It should make things stronger, faster, clearer—and cheaper. It
should surprise. It should engage. It should delight.
I believe design is a collaborative process. In that sense, design is
political. It is a sort of discussion. And the designer’s role is to help
facilitate the discussion. The traditional tools of drawing and prototyping
are remarkably helpful in this role. Sometimes the subject of
the discussion is abstract. In such times, designers must be able
to prototype abstractions—they must be able to create models,
which are simply tools for thinking.
I believe designers should root their work in the context of its
use. We must understand our audience. Who are they? What do
they believe? What do they want? At the same time, we must
understand the economic systems and technologies which make
products possible. All three equations—audience, business, and
technology—must be solved simultaneously.
Click here to view the entire interview with Hugh Dubberly, “Becoming a Digital Designer” article.
When I’m faced with an industrial design challenge sometimes I spend too much time focusing on project restraints. This can cause a major problem by diverting your attention away from the true needs of a customer. It can be especially troublesome during the early stages of development. While working through the initial ideating and sketching, look for ways to set aside the looming budget and manufacturing restraints. Allow yourself the freedom to have uninhibited fun finding product solutions. Ironically, many solutions won’t wander that far “out of the box.”
If you’re not familiar with TED.com I highly suggest you check it out. This is an amazing site that brings together thought leaders from around the world to discuss ideas and theories about anything. I’m always impressed with each video I watch. If you haven’t seen this particular video, it’s worth the 9 mins. Pattie Maes talks about creating a “6th sense” through enabling easy interactive access to the vast amounts of knowledge streaming through the web. Minority Report was futuristic, but this is beyond… it’s portable!
To me, this brings new light to the ID world by changing our interaction with everyday objects. How does this change the way you see I.D. in the future?
In a nutshell, visual cues are elements of a design that communicate its purpose and method of use. Common cues have developed over time out of repetitive use, natural association with other cues, and common sense (or the minds natural processes).
These cues are vital to the success of a product. If a person is confused by the cues he/she is left to read pages of instructions. If the cues are wrong he/she will feel betrayed and put-off. If they are obvious, descriptive, and accurate the individual will enjoy their natural like experience.
Have you ever entered a public building and pushed on a door, then realize after your face smacks the glass you were suppose to pull? Usually, you feel kind of dumb and look around to make sure no one noticed, but most likely this could have been a result of poor cues. This happened to me recently, going into Office Max. The first set of doors had a large flat area, perfect for pushing, yet it was meant to pull. The second set had the exact same handle, yet it was a push. Sure, I could have read the large print which described the appropriate action, but my point still stands. Better visual cues = better customer experience.
I’m interested in your experiences, what have you done to design better descriptive cues?
A fellow designer, Paul, inspired this post. He recently left his consulting job, to take a direct position as a designer with one of his clients. He realized that design-leadership is not always the company’s priority. I think most of us can say, at on time or another, that we have seen our company take a path contrary to our vision (wither that’s to cost-save, wrong target customer, or just plain safe).
Now hopefully that moment of disagreement quickly passes and everyone returns to the same page, but that’s not always the case. Some of us might belong to a huge company, or one that simply has an extremely small design team. In most cases this means the I.D. department takes a “back seat” regarding major decisions pertaining to the company’s products. A designer’s first reaction may be frustration. If frustration is allowed to remain, then relationships within the working product development team can turn combative.
Along with practicing patience and persistence, here are a few suggestions for removing and/or working around these barriers:
- Visually explain your side. We’re designers, use it to your advantage. Look for new ways to visually excite team members about your product goals.
- Become the resident expert on your product. Strive to learn all aspects of the business, i.e. engineering, marketing, and finance. The more you know, the better you’ll become at discussing your goals; you’ll possibly help them see your alternate solutions.
- If you are demanding design leadership, then be a design leader. To quote from “Zag,” “people like change, they don’t like to be changed.” Look to build relationships between coworkers. It’s easier to ask your best friend to follow you, then a complete stranger. (Wow, sorry that sounded like a fortune cookie)
- Pump out the work. To search for an innovative solution means you’re not satisfied with the initial result. It may be your best solution, but you can’t know if you don’t explore the alternatives. As you set a high standard work ethic, you’ll influence others to do the same.
The walls we find in our company may be big our small, but there is always a solution to remove and/or work around them. Please, feel free to share with us what has worked for you.