Designed to Stick – by Individuals Working Collectively

Talk to most Industrial Designers about working on product development teams and at some point one thing will likely come out: non-user focused decision making is commonplace. I’ve been there. I’ve worked on products where it was more important to the team that the product meet business-centric requirements than function properly in the hands of the consumer. In fact, it’s not uncommon for businesses to initiate projects only because they have machines sitting idle and need to keep them operating and not because they have a solution to a User need. The bigger problem is, this issue isn’t unique to the world of consumer product development. This is a much broader issue and is why there is (d)esign, as in what an Industrial Designer does day in and day out; and (D)esign, which is Big Picture stuff and something anyone can do but which so few seem able or willing to do (including many (d)esign-focused Industrial Designers). Spend some time on the Terra Nova blog, the hang out for a few of the videogame industries more prominent voices, and witness for yourself how difficult it can be to shift perspective off Developers and onto Users. In my recent online discussions on TN – especially in the wake of Clay Shirky’s assault on Linden Lab’s metrics – the solutions to establishing standardized metrics continually gravitate to a Developer perspective as if no one else has a valid interest. The band’s playing the same tune, it’s just a different club.

With that in mind I came across a couple of good posts via the TP Wire Service site. The first is a post by Diego Rodriguez on the metacool blog (Link). From his entry, “Designing for Contagion”:

What makes Points 1-3 work is a human-centered design process. Genuine, authentic stories about offerings that help people get real jobs done in their daily lives are what work. You get there via design thinking, by putting people at the center of everything you do.

I’ll include one of those three points here to get your attention, head over to his blog to read the rest:

1. Begin with Desire: create an offering that will bring value to people’s lives by starting your process with a focus on their needs. Not on your killer technology. Not on your brilliant business model.

The other post (Link) is over on the Creating Passionate Users blog and is written by Kathy Sierra. It’s a nice follow-on to both my comments and the above post. Here’s a couple clips:

Is it merely a coincidence that Apple, run by (as James Gosling put it) “a dictator with good taste” leads the way in tech design, while risk-averse companies using design-by-committee (or consensus) are churning out bland, me-too, incremental tweaks to existing products? And if that’s true about companies, why do we think consensus will work on an even larger scale with “users” in Web 2.0?

“Collective Intelligence” is about the community on Threadless, voting and discussing t-shirts designed by individuals.

“Dumbness of Crowds” would be expecting the Threadless community to actually design the t-shirts together as a group.

Art isn’t made by committee.

Great design isn’t made by consensus.

You’ll recall that I was largely on Lanier’s side in the debate over collective wisdom (reLink). I guess my own experience made that inevitable, because I’ve seen how collectives can work – both offline and online.

There’s also precedent in the idea Ms. Sierra is articulating (“It’s the sharp edges, gaps, and differences in individual knowledge that make the wisdom of crowds work“). If you’re an Industrial Designer and the name Gerald Hirshberg doesn’t ring a bell, I’d suggest doing some homework (Fast Company has a nice article that’s worth a read to get you started – Link). Hirshberg, in his book “The Creative Priority : Putting Innovation to Work in Your Business”, was among the first to point out how “creative abrasion” can benefit development. As Ms. Sierra rightly states, it’s the “aggregation of individual knowledge” that’s powerful; not the results that come from groupthink. When development teams embrace that concept and realize that more than ever in our increasingly commoditized age that they’re working for the Users, the additional step of making the offering “sticky” gets much easier.

via TP Wire Service

17 thoughts on “Designed to Stick – by Individuals Working Collectively

  1. Wow, theres some really passionate speech in that argument.
    But I would contend that just because a user doesn’t care about “art” doesn’t mean his voice is worthless.
    And this is precisely why I quit supporting Apple initiatives.
    Apple doesn’t care about the user:

  2. Not sure I understand your point. What I’m saying is that the User should *always* be the focus.

  3. I apologize…I misread the:

    Is it merely a coincidence that Apple, run by (as James Gosling put it) “a dictator with good taste” leads the way in tech design, while risk-averse companies using design-by-committee (or consensus) are churning out bland, me-too, incremental tweaks to existing products? And if that’s true about companies, why do we think consensus will work on an even larger scale with “users” in Web 2.0?

    It’s 4:30 in the morning here….I think I’ll go get coffee.

  4. Oh and feel free to delete my first comment….

    What I meant to say (^_^) was I wish there was some sort of medium which promoted “meaningful” communication between the User and the corporate entity.
    Some means of assigning reputations that tangibly influence which products see the light of day. Force-feedback.
    Afaic the days of corporations telling us what we “need” should be over.

  5. No need. I understand your point and I can understand the confusion. I’m not a huge fan of Apple either, but they *do* give more consideration to the User than most companies (which is more an indictment of other companies than an endorsement of Apple). That focus just happens to come from a control-freak… but at least he thinks Design (capital “D”) is important and that’s a good thing afaic.

    As for corporations telling us what we need, well, the real power has always been in the hands of consumers. We all vote with our wallet. Unfortunately, most people don’t give much thought to how they vote (and isn’t that true with politics as well?).

  6. Right, but don’t you think that “coercion” interferes with that “voting”.
    Coercion as defined as any anything that interferes with a consumer using her best judgment when selecting a product to purchase.
    I mean it would be cool to have more User-centric designs on the market..well better than cool _ideal_ but there is so much noise at times it’s nigh impossible to make informed decisions…crap…I’m opening a huge can of worms here…an informed consumer depends upon a society that promotes critical thinking…I’m not up for solving the ills of American society this morning…

  7. I don’t see any can of worms. The more products are designed *for* Users instead of designed to meet the needs of business means *more* better products from a User-perspective. The signal-to-noise ratio goes up and, in fact, reduces the need for critical thinking.

    Extrapolate out. If every product were designed in this manner, than even the worst products would be far better than what we have today. The thing is, products today are – among others things – often

    – designed by committee (most every product I’ve done to some extent)
    – designed to fit a retail shelf (e.g. the cases I did for Richell in my portfolio)
    – designed to reduce capital investment (same Richell product)
    – designed using materials with which a company is familiar instead of the appropriate materials (e.g. Rubbermaid avoided using anything other than plastic, and would use it even if metal were more appropriate)
    – designed using processes with which a company is familiar (same Rubbermaid example)
    – designed with the parameters of a company’s machinery or designed *for* machinery (e.g. I was sent to Little Tikes once to design products *for* their idle rotomold operations; Little Tikes is seasonal and the machines were sitting idle for months at a time)
    – designed for efficient palletization (e.g. the hosereel design I did – for which I wasn’t given credit on the patent – folded its handle *not* for shipping but for consumer Winter storage; the stacking of multiples was Ames’ contribution and was a business-centric constraint)
    – designed to conform to market expectations instead of taking the risk on a potentially better, User-centric idea
    – etc
    – etc
    – etc

  8. Most current philosophies are, yes. Only the revenue stream is coming from the lowest piece of that trickle down process. That makes no sense to me. If companies design for the User first and let the rest fall into place, sales should rise. But taking that approach is problematic: actually *knowing* what the User wants/needs is always up for debate. And since there is no sure answer, other factors come into play because companies are risk-averse. This is why we have “design by committee” – which often ends up being no good design at all – and why a dictator like Steve Jobs is successful. He’s focused *more* on the User than most other companies and is willing to take those risks (most likely based on his own idea of what a User wants/needs) and as a result there is no real committee, so the focus doesn’t get blurred.

  9. “actually *knowing* what the User wants”
    What do you think about “reputations” as a possible fix?

  10. I like the idea of Reputation systems (if you do a search here, you’ll see I’ve discussed it on quite a few occassions… including linking it in to online sales – reLink). Problem is finding a system that can’t be – or isn’t easily – gamed.

    Haven’t given it too much thought lately, but I’ll have to consider how OpenID might integrate itself with a system like the one I was imagining in that link.

    Thing is, none of that solves the “User-centric” issue.

  11. Bizarre, I had just “coined” a “kirky” in my own private lexicon.
    Granted in a completely different context, but still rather odd.

    But back to the topic at hand.
    I’ve been pursuing a degree in “philosophy of human interface design”, I hope to do research into haptics and gesture based interfaces.
    I guess “user-centricity” has been something of a forgone conclusion
    for me. It’s always made sense to me that a thing should work exactly as you’d expect it to.

  12. Kirkyans are similar to spimes, just higher up on the ladder and exist as both real and virtual things simultaneously.

    And yes, one would think a thing should work as expected, but manufacturers don’t make products for Consumers, they make products for Customers. Big difference.

  13. No. Rather than explain it here, I’d suggest reading my original post on it (reLink) and then perhaps a post on ISHUSH (Link) which is really my comment to another entry over there. Those are probably the best. If you do a search here you’ll find plenty more.

    It’s probably worth mentioning that for me spimes were no major breakthrough; Sterling just gave a word to a concept I believe quite a few people had in mind. Some of my earliest design work was with a group of engineers at the now-defunct Telxon Corporation. By virtue of patent restrictions, they were forced (by Motorola’s recently acquired Symbol, the data scanner company) to pursue wireless technology. That led to the core team with whom I consulted spinning off Aironet (now a part of Cisco). Those guys were already thinking along the lines of spimes in the mid-90’s and last I checked, one of the primary movers is the CTO of a company that makes something very much like a spime now.

  14. much clarified thanks. I read the original post and only caught the surface of what you were explaining, when I went back and read the
    wiki on spimes it all began to make sense.

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