Recent Posts

  • Design by committee kills product innovation

    Design by committee leads to a diluted product vision and compromise on the key features. There are no two ways about it, there needs to be a decision maker. Someone must own the product, own the vision, own what you are trying to achieve.

    It is always a fine balance, it is important to get input from all the key stakeholders – Sales, marketing, engineering, customer support etc. – but still someone has to be empowered to make the tough decisions.

    Design by committee exists in many companies, rarely by design. It’s is something that creeps into the culture, usually with the best intentions.

    Shouldn’t we consider all points of view when making key product decisions? What if sales prefer a different design concept to the other stakeholders? Shouldn’t we consider their point of view, to ensure we end up with the best possible product?

    All points of view should be considered, there is no harm in hearing opposing opinions. Understanding what people think.

    In fact, this is a vital part of the development process. However, this cannot be allowed to dilute the product design, its focus, what you are trying to achieve. Sometimes, something just has to give. Like most things in life, you can’t please everyone all the time.

    You want to ensure that you produce the best product you can. That you fulfil your product vision and create a great user experience for all of your customers. When considering opinions, you need to do just that, consider them, not just implement them. This does not mean that you have to agree with or satisfy everyone’s requirements. Sometimes the right decision is to decide to move on with the product as you planned, regardless of the comments received.

    Great development teams, are given a brief of the key design targets, an outline and then given the freedom to create the best possible product that fulfils this brief. They should be empowered to create the desired product outcomes, but in the way they envisage. This allows creativity to flow, unconstrained.

    With that said, they need to be answerable to the brief, answerable to the customer. This is where having a product owner, someone who speaks on behalf of the customer and the overall product vision is vital.

    If all stakeholders are allowed to influence the product direction unmoderated, the likely outcome is an ok product, but unlikely a great one. When every comment made is immediately factored into a design, it leads to a dilution of potentially great features.

    Production may prefer that you don’t add that last process, the finishing touches, as it takes longer, they aren’t set up for that. This may be a valid point, but if the finish from this process, is the icing on your metaphorical product cake, then a tough decision must be made. It has to stay!

    The easy answer is to try and remove said process, it keeps them happy and it doesn’t make that much difference, right?

    The question we need to ask is, who are you developing this product for? Production or your customer? What if that final detail is the defining feature between you and your competitor, the detail that makes them want to choose your product over all others!

    Having one point of truth, a product owner, alleviates this. They are the one to make the decision, they consider all sides of the argument and then make the decision that is best for the product, best for the customer and no one else.

    The role of the product owner is often filled by a product manager, but not always. The product owner can be anyone that has been empowered by the organisation to make the decisions that matter about the product and have the authority to do so. Without fear of being overruled. In most cases, the role of product owner either falls to the head of product, product manager, development lead or the CEO.

    Apple is one of the best examples of this type of mentality. They decide on what to add to the product based on what they can achieve and achieve well. They are loathed to add a feature, just because everyone else is doing it, because people might like it. If they can’t do it well or it doesn’t fit in with their overriding vision for the product, then it doesn’t make the cut. This can be frustrating when you want something and it isn’t there. But you must ask yourself what is worse, having an “ok” feature or not having that feature at all.

    If you’re going to do it, then do it right!

  • 3D printing is changing product development

    3D printing is rapidly gaining in popularity. It seems as though every week we hear about 3D printing being used in a new application; printing in metal, medical applications and even 3D printing houses.

    While 3D printing is no longer a new technology. The increasing number of companies producing printers and new lower cost printers continuously coming on to the market are making the technology much more accessible.

    3D printing is a design tool and one that is used extensively in the development of all types of products. The benefits of using 3D printing in the development process are numerous; reduction in prototyping costs, prototyping speed, the list goes on. While these are all important, the main benefit is that it encourages you to explore and test out more design ideas.

    When developing a product, the product team are always generating, testing and evaluating new ideas. The ability to utilise 3D printing for this process encourages the team to generate and test more ideas.

    To some extent 3D printing allows you to conduct A/B testing while developing physical products. If you have two competing design ideas, why not just print both parts and compare them? This has always been possible through prototyping, but 3D printing makes this process easier, faster, cheaper and more accurate than it ever has been.

    3D printed fan impeller

    Not only are 3D printed parts accurate, more so than with many other processes, the process is relatively fast. In most cases producing a 3D printed part takes only a few hours, depending on how complex the part is. While this is generally much longer than the time taken for production parts, the upfront costs are much lower. There are no tooling costs, no minimum order quantity and no production setup time.

    The ability to discuss an idea, produce a design and have a printed part in your hand all within a matter of hours is truly amazing.

    Product teams have always discussed ideas, debated details and then produced prototypes to test these ideas. The process has not changed, 3D printing did not create this design process. It just reduces the cost of failure.

    When testing out a new design idea, using 3D printed parts it is now much easier to just try it and see if it works.

    When discussing a new design idea, the conversation changes. Instead of asking “Is this ok?” or “Do we need to do another prototype?”, you start to say “Why don’t you just test it” and “Shall we just change x,y and z and then print another one”.

    The barrier to entry for new ideas, design changes or improvements is lowered. The cost of failure is reduced. This encourages and nurtures creativity, which leads to increased innovation.

    As it gets easier to test ideas it encourages you to push the boundaries of your design to see where it can be improved.

  • A new Medium

    Medium adds audio versions of selected stories for members

    Medium has just launched a new feature which introduces audio versions of selected stories for Medium members.

    I love spoken audio content. Over the last few years, I have found myself listening to more and more audio content. I enjoy podcasts and have switched to audiobooks for the majority of books I read.

    Medium’s audio versions are currently only available for a handful of selected articles and these are only available to Medium members. I truly believe that the introduction of this new feature is a great decision and one that will help increase the number of paid members. Which in turn, will hopefully mean that membership can be a sustainable business model for Medium.

    Audio content is increasingly popular and by making this feature only available to members it really increases the appeal of the Medium membership.

    People are much more willing to pay for something if they really gain value from it and if doing so gives them something they desire or find useful. Prior to the launch of audio content on Medium the main benefit of becoming a member, apart from supporting the platform, was the ability to access the improved bookmarks feature which allows for bookmarked articles to be read even when offline. The issue is that most people who are interested in this functionality already use a read it later service such as Pocket or Instapaper. There are member only articles, but currently, I don’t think these are compelling enough to make you want to subscribe. Especially when there is so much great content available for free on Medium.

    There are ways, more accurately hacks, which allow you to listen to articles in audio form. However, the majority of these hacks deliver the content in a text to speech computer voice. While functional, it is just not the same. The experience and listening quality is not comparable to a great narrator reading the content, as with audiobooks.

    Pocket has offered audio narration for some time, but as it is a text to speech computer voice it has always stopped me using the feature heavily. After a while I just get sick of listening to it.

    This is where Medium’s audio content stands out. All of the audio content that is offered is read by a narrator. I have always found this to be one of the best features of The Economist’s app.

    It’s a great product decision. You can listen to articles while going about your daily business, which keeps you coming back for more and leads to you consuming more of their content.

    If anything audio versions of articles are even better than audiobooks. Articles are generally shorter and don’t have long, complex or twisting plots which when listening to them instead of reading, can be difficult to follow unless given your full undivided attention.

  • There’s an app for that
    Photo credit: Jan Persiel via

    Product apps — Useful or Useless?

    It’s no secret that mobile applications (apps) are increasingly popular and are often the accepted and preferred way in which people use and interact with services and products.

    Most of us use apps on our mobile devices daily. When apps were originally introduced, they were primarily focused on being a convenient and quick way to use our favourite web services such as Facebook, Twitter and Google. Over the last few years, apps are more frequently being developed to allow us to control and interact with the products within our homes.

    Apps have been developed for toasters, washing machines and even rubbish bins. While many of these apps are useful, some apps are clearly developed just so that the claim of “app-controlled device” can be made by the manufacturer. There is no focus on adding value for the end user. This approach is short-sighted, it devalues products with an app integration in the mind of the consumer. It becomes a gimmick.

    If a product does have an app then it should add value for the consumer. It should enable new useful functionality, provide an improved interaction with the product and make using the product easier or more convenient. That’s not to say that to be useful a product app must be used by the consumer daily or that it needs to complex and stuffed full of every feature under the sun.

    In fact, the opposite is often true, the best apps are there when you need or want them, but don’t require your constant attention to be functional. They are simply designed, easy to use and only offer the features that the consumer needs.

    Apps offer product manufacturers an opportunity to provide a way for consumers to interact with their products in a way in which they are familiar and comfortable. If designed correctly, they are intuitive and often require little, if any, user instruction. An app can turn a potentially complex process or interaction for the user into a smooth and pain-free experience.

    A product app should be useful and add value every time it is used. It should not be something you play with for a few weeks and never look at again. If an app truly adds value by being the easiest and most convenient way for the user to interact with the product then it doesn’t matter how often it is used, as the overall user experience has improved when it is used.