by Bruce Nussbaum, Editorial Page Editor and Design
Design has come to play a critical role in our economic lives. For many
decades Corporate America neglected design, treating style as superficial,
fashion as transitory. Design was felt to be last-minute gloss to be applied
after the real product development was done. No longer. Design is fast
becoming a key corporate asset, essential to establishing and extending
brands, transforming new technologies into usable products, and bridging
company identities and customer loyalties. CEOs and managers are scrambling
to learn how to use it to maximize their sales and profits. Most believe
that design is a business tool, a way of gaining advantage in the marketplace
for products and services. Thats true but a few chief executives
understand that design is much moreits a strategy, a business
behavior, a way to bring together the very best a corporation has to offer
and focus it directly on the consumer. Design increases the odds of winning
in the global marketplace.
For the past decade, I have been fortunate in having BusinessWeek embrace
this point of view. Its coverage is distinct from other design
magazines in that it focuses on design as a powerful core competency for
Corporate America. The dozens and dozens of articles that Ive written
as the design editor of BusinessWeek are all basically stories about how
companies use design as part of their overall business strategies or how
design firms develop products that bust open new markets or extend brands.
Ive tried to demystify the process of design by describing how some
of the best product designers actually work. Jonathan Cagan and Craig
M. Vogel have the same goals in their book, Creating Breakthrough Products.
They show readers how to peel back the mystery of design to reveal how
it actually works. They describe how companies can harness design to buttress
their bottom line. And they provide simple methods for achieving the best
This is especially important in a period of fast technological change
such as the one we are in now. When new technologies throw up a multitude
of options and possibilities, design can filter them, fitting them appropriately
to what people actually want and need. Really good design operations integrate
the engineering of functions and features as well as the marketing goals
of brand identity and brand extension. Teaming product designers with
engineers and marketing people is often the key to quick success.
When companies rely on the new technologies themselves to attract consumers,
they often stumble. They make the mistake of thinking that more functions
translate into better products, when often the very opposite is true.
We all remember the first personal digital assistant, the Apple Newton,
which had the ability to do all kinds of things, none of them, it turned
out, all that well. People wanted simplicity in their PDAs and had to
wait years for Palm to offer it to them.
Indeed, there is no better example of the bottom-line power of design
than the creation of the breakthrough Palm. Three programmers developed
handwriting software that organized data. They were smart enough to learn
from the Newton fiasco and kept their product very simpledatebook,
address book, memo pad, and to-do list, plus a very simple hot-synch with
the PC. They then brought in a savvy West Coast design firm, Palo Alto
Design Group, which designed an amazingly easy-to-use form. But Palo Alto
Design Group went even further. It arranged for the tooling and manufacturing
to take place in Asia. The whole development cycle took less than a year.
From the writing of the software to the actual Palm being sold in electronics
stores took a mere 12 months. Thats the power of design. So powerful,
in fact, that Palo Alto Design Group was recently bought by Flextronics,
one of the largest manufacturers in the world.
And that is precisely the message from Creating Breakthrough Products:
Innovation From Product Planning to Program Approval. Jonathan Cagan and
Craig M. Vogel at Carnegie Mellon University show the way to designing
such breakthrough products and services as the OXO GoodGrips, the Motorola
Talkabout, the Crown Wave, and the Starbucks coffee experience. In fact,
there are a whole slew of case studies in the book, including the Black
& Decker SnakeLight, the Herman Miller Aeron Chair and the Apple iMac.
These are products we love, products we lust after.
But Cagan and Vogel go beyond just presenting detailed examinations of
the best products. They offer up a best practices approach to design,
a systematic approach to creating innovative, brand-enhancing products.
It is a guidebook that corporations, large and small, can follow. Its
a methodology that everyone involved in product development can use, be
they engineers, marketeers, manufacturing people, sales people, or industrial
designers. And its step by step, focusing on user-driven, not just
technology-driven development, integrating and balancing teams and disciplines,
shaping the process and raising the odds of success in the marketplace.
And their advice is right on: If a product does not connect with
the values of a customer, it will fail. Its not just the utility
of a product thats important. Its the emotional componentthe
experience people have with it and the values they want expressed by itthats
To guide the way, Cagan and Vogel have developed a number of valuable
models and useful methodologies. They are very helpful. Take the SET factors.
To really understand consumer trends and catch the moment when opportunities
present themselves, product developers need a systematic approach. Hence
SETSocial trends, Economic forces and Technological advances. Follow
them and companies can get to the edge of the new in society. And once
they understand the SET factors of their marketplace, they can picture
the Product Opportunity Gap (POG) that makes itself available. With the
OXO potato peeler, determining the SET factors involved a growing number
of aging boomers with arthritic hands, an unwillingness to be stigmatized,
a willingness to spend more on kitchen utensils than their parents, and
an openness to new materials and shapes. Enter Sam Farber and Smart Design
and you have the building of one of the most successful new brands in
recent history. Ergonomically sound tools for the kitchen were extended
to the garden, the car, and on and on. Brilliant. The book shows how they
did it, why they did it, and how others can follow.
There is tremendous detail in Creating Breakthrough Products for
the product development specialists. On one level, the entire book is
aimed at them. It provides a path down which companies can enter to increase
their chances of success in launching new products. But anyone interested
in the design of everyday things in our lives would appreciate this book.
It shows how good design can be made and why there is no longer any excuse
for not having it in all the things we love to use.Bruce Nussbaum