How organization can impact design

This morning, I had an interesting discussion with a friend of mine, who designs books. He is what the industry calls a ‘book packager’ because he is responsible for the look n feel of the book, how the content is presented in the book, and all the materials that make up the book (pages, designs, etc.). And he asked me an interesting question.

Why can’t other animation studios do what Pixar does?

And why can’t other companies product something something like the iPad.

This was after he asked how will an iPad, which will have inferior functionality outsell some of the other superior tablets that will be hitting the market over the summer? And how come people with iPhones will buy an iPads.

I responded by saying that the iPad will change reading and interacting with the content forever. (Do I sound like an Apple die-hard). Since I am an avid reader of newspapers and books on my iPhone, the iPad will be a dream come true. All of this motivated him to ask again, why can Apple do it so well while other companies struggle.

Even though I am a community type of guy and believe in the importance of team work, I don’t believe any ‘design can be done by committee.’ I believe that it has to be driven by one or two people, who either go on gut (like Steve Jobs) or collect and filter through lots of user feedback (like Intuit does).

In Silicon Valley, too many consumer products are designed by committee and / or the key decision maker doesn’t really have a background in learning about or interacting with aesthertics. They usually are MBAs or Engineers, and after working with those two groups (and I am one of them) for two plus decades, I have realized that they just don’t have the same feel for a product as a true designer.

Pixar is another example. Most of the time, there animation films are better than Dreamworks’. And even though they have a team of people working on their creations, there is one director. There is one keeper of the creative process. Yes, I know they had an article in the Harvard Business Review about a collaborative creative process. But I have yet to see that formula work consistently in a company. What is the old expression, ‘too many cooks in the kitchen spoil the stew.’

I know that this will be controversial, but I call them as I experience them. So, what does it take to create great products:

  1. Great teams are still important
  2. Great teams should have a variety of personalities
  3. Great teams should be lead by someone who has experienced different disciplines and has been exposed to different type of arts (performing, visual.. and even liberal arts educations)
  4. A leader who relies on his gut — a gut that has some innate-ness to it and has been shaped and formed over the years through trial and error
  5. A great product is overseen by one person who has a vision — who manages the product from creation to customer usage
  6. A great product is driven by someone who has intellectual curiousity and an appreciation for aesthetics .. and of course functionality
  7. A great product is designed for the lowest common denominator

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