The Design of Things to Come: How Ordinary People Create Extraordinary Products

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The Design of Things to Come: How Ordinary People Create Extraordinary Products

Craig M. Vogel, Jonathan Cagan and Peter Boatwright

The iPod is a harbinger of a revolution in product design: innovation that targets customer emotion, self-image, and fantasy, not just product function. Read the hidden stories behind BodyMedia's SenseWear body monitor, Herman Miller's Mirra Chair, Swiffer's mops, OXO's potato peelers, Adidas' intelligent shoes, the new Ford F-150 pickup truck, and many other winning innovations. Meet the innovators, learning how they inspire and motivate their people, as they shepherd their visions through corporate bureaucracy to profitable reality.  The authors deconstruct the entire process of design innovation, showing how it really works, and how today's smartest companies are innovating more effectively than ever before.

Review by Brian Matt, IDSA:

Every corporate manager who is struggling with his company's product offering should be reading this book. This book should also be mandatory for every business and design student. These three authors, with a single thread of understanding, explain how ordinary people create extraordinary products. The authors do something fascinating; they combine theory with practical, real-live examples throughout the book-something that seems to be lacking in many theoretical works about industrial design. It feels so refreshing to read about real case studies instead of abstracts.

"Innovation" as a word or meaning is so overplayed that it is losing its effective purpose. Books, articles, blogs, newsletters and white papers pop up everywhere proselytizing the virtues of innovation for the sake of fueling business success. The Design of Things to Come distinguishes innovation with high relevance from that with little or no relevance. The first great example is Burnie, the authors' animated walking robotic toaster portrayed on the book cover, innovation for innovation's sake can be absurd and lead to product failure no matter what kind of marketing muscle is deployed. The book states, "The power of the new design for innovation is fueling an engine of change that is driving the production of things to come. It is the result of interdisciplinary teams, and it dynamically leads to comprehensive solutions that consumers respond to emotionally, cognitively, and then economically."

The authors challenge the new 'conventional wisdom' by carefully deconstructing the notion of innovation to its basic level and rebuild it with an understandable and repeatable process that everyday people can use to accomplish extraordinary results. Examples in the book range from Dee Kapur at Ford Motor Company transforming service vehicles like SUVs and pickup trucks into lifestyle vehicles, to Edith Harmon at The New Balance Company atypically concentrating on the process rather than the end result to develop a successful premium trail running shoe that incorporates features normally reserved for off-road vehicles and orienteering.

In the book, all teams embrace their own form of user-centered design throughout. Through structured ethnography or investigation of other lifestyle products, teams are able to process this input and look for relevant problems to solve. I really enjoyed reading about other heroes in the book such as Chuck Jones of Whirlpool Corporation, who balances both sides of his brain to create effective conditions to champion great ideas from the world's largest appliance manufacturer, and Tom, an archetypical persona hypothetically developed by Herman Miller Corporation that guided proper development of the fantastic Mirra chair.

The Design of Things to Come profiles these new contemporaries of innovation to reveal how they inspire and champion their visions into profitable realities. Understanding the power of product adoption from the micro to the macro view is enhanced by the authors' technique identified as "Powers of 10" analysis. This lens view was inspired by the film, Powers of Ten, produced by Charles and Ray Eames, two of the most important designers in our times. I highly recommend that you put this process in action-and see its power.

Reading The Design of Things to Come brings to my mind probable work sessions in Craig's office at Carnegie Mellon University. It is legend-packed with a substantial collection of radios, coffeemakers, toasters, Coca-Cola packaging and potato peelers-each one with a story about objects of consumerism that provide or don't provide innovation valued by consumers. Even though Craig is now the Director of the Center for Research & Innovation and a Professor in the College of Design, Architecture, Art & Planning at the University of Cincinnati, I imagine the ghosts of those impassioned office discussions still floating through the halls, embedded into the texture of classrooms, and most certainly growing with continued dialogue.

The Design of Things to Come will be must-share present to colleagues or clients less informed. As the book says, "You'll learn how companies are identifying their customers' most powerful fantasies-and using them to build products that transform their markets." This is a must have book for your company library. The power of its lasting theories and real-life examples are too powerful to exclude from any respectable industrial design material collection.

 

This book is available for purchase.