The Tao of Design. AKA: It’s all about the cup holder.

Often trial by error, the design of products and processes is a complex procedure resulting in ‘disruptive’ product commercial success or mediocre abyss. However, companies like IDEO, started and run by design savants David M. Kelley, Bill Moggridge and Tim Brown, and Apple, founded by Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak and lead now by Tim Cook, have used Stanford University professor and design and innovation company IDEO guru David M. Kelley’s, ‘design thinking’ process of iterative divergent brainstorming and convergent problem solving to create and improve products with society altering success. The design thinking process has taken the competitive field to a new level. Marketing anthropologists, designers, and scientists using design thinking all share three simple rules.

First, the “basics” better work. In competing for customers, you cannot risk losing market share if your basic functions or processes don’t work well.  Consider this an #EpicFail. Consumers simply will not tolerate defective designs. With everyone doing ‘design thinking’ in product development, being the first product to hit market is no longer a sure recipe for success.

Second, Steve Jobs, notable among others, changed the world and made Apple a multi-billion company ($710 Billion with a B!) by proving ergonometrics and coolness were required attributes for a product or process. User-experience or user-centeredness is core to product design. Long after Jobs’ foresight that a personal computer (and custom mouse) would sit on everyone’s desk, the ergonometric iPod product, using the renamed SoundJam MP media management system Apple acquired in 2000, changed both consumers use of electronics as well as the music industry.  Now Apple TV is taking on TV entertainment in what will affect the future of cable, dish and network television.  Be sure, products will forevermore be judged in this manner.

Third, your product or process should address human wants, needs and concerns with elegant design. Remember, it’s all about the cup holder. When developing or improving a design or a process, particularly a complex product or process, don’t forget about the little things. Little things matter. Little things can make or break you. For instance, a couple years ago I bought a new car. I won’t disclose the manufacturer, but I will say this import car met all my needs in a vehicle. It had great gas mileage; it had room for lots of teenagers; and it had ample room for my two 100 plus pound Beagle Labradors (don’t ask). The only thing the vehicle did not have was a decent cup holder design. The cup holder cup diameter to height aspect ratio was wrong. The cup diameter was grossly oversized, larger than any Big Gulp sold – think Double Gulp! However the height allotted to this large diameter wouldn’t allow a Big Gulp cup to fit due to the short clearance to the dashboard. As a result, any small cup of coffee or soda fountain drink would slide back and forth, spilling over as I drove. This one little detail has made me hate this vehicle. I will not purchase another vehicle from this company.

So after you’ve completed your design, make sure it’s cool and make sure it works, then step away and look at the cup holder.

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