16 January 2009

Why design?

On occasion I have looked around and had the strange sense that people are asking themselves, “why is he so passionate about design?” Or, I am sure in some cases, “why is he so indignant?”

Design is a special place to me. Design is that space in innovation and product development where things find their purpose and their success. Great technology does not matter if it doesn’t have purpose, if it does not add value, and if it is not used. Design, is the difference between the 10 – 15% of products that succeed, and all the rest.

Form, function and fit are the key to design. How does it work and how does it look are obvious to most. We all understand the frustration of products that just don’t work well. We also understand the ugly product out there in the world. Some products are so great, so impactful as to overcome bad design and find success in spite of themselves.

But fit… fit is the unsung hero of product design. Fit is when a product does what it needs to do in the context of use. It is how ordinary products get set aside in preference to great products. Pardon the tired example, but it is why nearly everyone has an ipod and not one of the dozen or so mp3 players that preceded them.

But still… why so passionate, is it really that big a deal? In a word yes. I was raised with a notion of contribution. It might sound simplistic or even idealistic, but I would rather give than take. I want to go beyond ‘leave no trace’, I want to ‘leave things better off’. A flat economy is not a good thing. Creating value is an important component to a growing economy. Creating value is not the same as just making money. Making money is easy. Creating value is where a person or people make an intangible difference to success. I am talking about the kind of success that puts purpose, and therefore value, in the hands of those who need it [insert life saving healthcare product success story here]. Yes there are dramatic instances, but when someone adds just a little bit of value to an otherwise ordinary product, they are doing something very special.

This is the hallowed ground of economics and commerce. This is why I am passionate about design. And yes, this is why I am indignant when you treat design with disregard and reduce it to rote process as a cost management tactic.