Product Design Recipes and the Value of Design Research
August 6, 2012
Authored by Jason Velliquette, Director of Digital Marketing
Image Credits: www.idsa.org
Living in the greater New York City area as a remote team member of Design Central, I have the unique opportunity to tap into a fresh network of innovation and design professionals and their east coast perspectives and events.
The following is a post-event conversation I had with one of our principals and innovation expert, Gregg Davis, regarding a presentation I recently attended in the Chelsea area of Manhattan. Hosted by the NYC chapter of IDSA, the “Inspiration Lounge” featured guest speakers Allan Chochinov, partner at Core77 and lecturer at the School of Visual Arts, as well as Matthew Locsin, associate partner of Monitor Group and program leader at Doblin.
Gregg: So how was the event? Was it insightful or just a good networking opportunity?
Jason: It was pretty cool. Being relatively new to these disciplines, it was very insightful from a learning perspective. Allan Chochinov gave a great presentation on "Design Recipes,” drawing parallels between product design and food (two of my favorite subjects!).
Gregg: What did he say about “Design Recipes”? Was it something he was proposing or something he was criticizing?
Jason: He was totally for the idea. He talked about knowing “your ingredients" before getting started. How, as industrial designers, we too often start with the question of "what do we want to make?”
His argument was that we need to go beyond that thought process and first ask, "what do we want to do as an industrial designer?” and in order to answer that question, we really need to start with "who do we want to be as an industrial designer?”
It sounds a bit philosophical, but his core point was that as industrial designers, we need to understand who we want to be and do as designers before we attempt to make; if we want quality to shine through the work we do, we need to understand what ingredients we have internally and then choose how we can incorporate those intrinsic values into our work.
Gregg: Wow, an interesting perspective to put out there. I think some of the things that have impacted me in recent years is the role of design research as it plays into the “what do we want to make” question.
It is the results of our focused research that creates the “design recipe” rather than us deciding what we want to design based on purely internal motivations. Would you agree?
Jason: I think Allan's message, as a teacher at the School of Visual Arts, was directed more to individual industrial designers as creative contributors as opposed to consultancies or corporate design groups working as teams. I agree with you though in that design research definitely needs to be a major "ingredient in the recipe."
The other speaker, Matthew Locsin, put more emphasis on the inclusive aspects of research coupled with design, and more specifically, how it can lead to a shift in innovation. Matthew’s argument is best summarized by a quote pulled from his company’s website; “For many years, executives equated innovation with the development of new products. But creating new products is only one way to innovate, and on its own, it provides the lowest return on investment and the least competitive advantage.” He supported his perspective by defining the Ten Types of Innovation and sharing his story of working with Ford Motor Company.
Ford had hired Doblin to help them create a competitive advantage for their F-Series pickup trucks. For decades, they battled competitors like Chevy and Dodge, constantly one-upping each other in the performance arena. At first, Ford wanted Doblin to apply their focus solely on the product, but Doblin eventually convinced them of the need for real-world consumer research and to not rely solely on sales data.
This led to weeks of in-the-field interviews and observations. The core take-away that emerged was these truck owners viewed their vehicles as “mobile offices.” This led to Doblin convincing Ford that they were not just in the business of performance anymore, but rather the business of productivity. By offering a truck with features that made their owners more productive, Ford could leap ahead of the competition. Some of the recommended enhancements included a truck bed that could read RFID chips embedded in their power tools and let the owner know if they were missing anything before leaving home or a work site, and an dashboard navigation system that also including project management software. These were great ideas that most likely wouldn’t have been explored had the research not be conducted first.
Gregg: Great stuff. I’m glad to hear they shared balancing perspectives. Thanks for sharing!
What other ingredients are in your “Product Design Recipe”? Share your thoughts, opinions and counter-arguments in the comments below.