Tag Archives: Product Design

Write Now, Edit Later. AKA – left brain shut up, right brain GO!

I am staring a blank piece of paper, a million ideas swimming in my mind, and none of them is good enough.  The pen is not moving, and I have no idea what to do next…

Right Brain Diverge, Left Brain Converge

Use the different parts of your brain at the right time!

That is how every writing exercise seems to begin for me. Then I get distracted by email or facebook and then never write a darned thing.  That was, until my favorite writer pointed out the brilliantly obvious point that writing is a lot like product design!  You can’t edit at the same time as you create.  You have to turn off that critic – that darned left brain!

Unicorn puking it out - write down everything you can think of

Puke it out!

Pick up the pen, the keyboard, or dictate into the microphone and just let it go.  There is no good or bad, no one will ever see this.  Whatever comes to mind, let it come out of you.  So that you can get to the good stuff.  In design, I call this the ‘puke’ phase.  After all, when was the last time that the first idea you wrote down was the best one?  Or even the third or fourth?  This puke time is dedicated to clearing out all the ideas so that we can move on to the good stuff.

So, what exactly do I do?  Just start writing, even if it is gibberish.  Write as long and quickly as you can.  Start anywhere, from breakfast that day to your childhood to the latest conversation with a co-worker.  Sure, maybe everything won’t hold together perfectly.  But you shouldn’t know that.  You will be too busy writing to see that everything is crap.  Besides, you won’t know exactly what you meant to write until well after you are done writing, you need at least a few hundred words on the page before the first decent sentence emerges.

Just accept it.  I am trying to. Stream of ConciousnessThis is just part of the way things work.  While we are all delicate, individual snowflakes, we are all still basically the same.  99% of what you write will be deleted or at least re-written.  Don’t be attached, don’t even really think about it, just get it out of your head.  If you can do that, then the good news is that you will be another 1000 words ahead of everyone else!

The Design Process (aka Simple Problem Solving)

My friend Bruce came to me the other day very excited about his idea and wanting to build it immediately.  The first thing I asked him is who is his customer and what problems does his product solve for them.  Like so many of us, he struggled.  You know in your heart, if you can’t explain your product simply, then you probably don’t have a good idea (yet!). The good news, is that there is a fantastic design process that most of us follow that help us develop ideas into products.  This process ensures that our ideas are actually great and that our products will be successful.

How do you know it is going to be successful?  You know an idea will be successful if it solves a big unmet need of your user.  How do you ensure that it solves big, unmet needs?  Yep, it is as simple as 8 steps, however, like all simple things they do take a lot of practice to master.

Who is the person you are trying to solve for? What are their hopes, dreams, problems?

Who is the person you are trying to solve for? What are their hopes, dreams, problems?

  1. Know your customer.  Who are they?  What do they do?  Why are they unique?
  2. Discover the problems they are currently unable to solve well.  Sure, they might have solutions, but those solutions might be inadequate.  Figure out why.
  3. Brainstorm ways to fix those  problems.  Keep an open mind, the greater the number of solutions, the better.
  4. Narrow the answers.  Now you can be ruthless – decide what you want to work on and what gives you the most energy.
  5. Prototype those ideas.  There is no time line the present.  Don’t be fancy, just be prolific!

    It's not that I'm so smart, it's just that I stay with problems longer. - Albert Einstein

    It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s just that I stay with problems longer. – Albert Einstein

  6. Test solutions on users.  The rougher the ideas the better.  Users are more likely to give you useful feedback if they see that your ideas are not set in stone.
  7. Repeat 3-6 until you feel like the solution is correct.
  8. Bring the ideas to market.  So often folks get this wrong, you don’t bring an idea to market until you are sure it solves a big, unmet need!  Make sure you have steps 1-7 down before you even think about step 8.  :)

Notice it is more about building prototypes and testing them than it is about bringing something to market.  The best way not to waste a ton of time and money is to build out ideas in the best way possible to see if the customer will actually like them so much they will tell all of their friends.  If they don’t, you have saved yourself a lot of time and grief and have more information for the next iteration of your prototypes and ideas!

It is how fast you go and who you bring with you along the way.

Rotary Telephone in an iPhone World

Rotary Telephone in an iPhone World

When I was at Intuit, there was a mantra, “It isn’t how fast you go, it is who you bring with you along the way.”  While I agree with the last half of that statement, that the who is very important, you also need to go quickly.  Very often the downfall of big companies is that they don’t move quickly enough.  Yes, you have a large user base you might upset, but then again, you have a large user base you might upset.  People’s needs are always changing, the way they use the product is changing, and the world around them is changing.  To quote my redneck uncle, “You don’t want a rotary telephone in an iphone world.”  Every day your customer is becoming more savvy, and if your product’s don’t keep up with their pace, they will leave you behind.

Express, Test, Cycle – Recycling a Building, Reviving an Idea

Terman Engineering Building by Ron Horii

Terman Engineering Building by Ron Horii

As a wee teenager I wandered into Terman Engineering Building for the first time. Little did I know, this was the first day in a life-long love affair. Terman was the fabled inside-out building at Stanford built by Hewlett and Packard to honor their professor. It was deliberately built to expose the structure of the building to the students housed inside it. It was a constant lesson about design and engineering that followed us wherever we went.

I spent hundreds of hours in this building over the years. I would often see tours or overhear

conversations about the building – ‘notice the laminated beams, how the windows on one side are shuttered, the small pond for cooling, etc.’ What you didn’t ever hear is someone talking about the ribbon-like pattern dancing across the glass doors. Lightly etched into the heavy glass doors was an ornate flourish that held the letters ‘ETC’ -the mantra of the design team. E represented ‘Express’ or simply, go try to build the thing.  T was for ‘Test’ or try it out and see if it works or how you can improve it. C was for ‘Cycle’ or repeat, go back to the beginning and express again. This minor detail is what lives on in everything that I do and walks with me wherever I go.

After nearly 20 years I have seen dozens of teams fail from forgetting or refusing to ETC. I

Terman being torn down

Terman being torn down

have yet to see one fail who has stuck to this mantra faithfully. These days, ETC goes by new names (Lean Startup, Design Process, etc.), but the principals at work are still the same. Fundamentally, you have to get out of the talking and thinking space into the doing space and you need to do it as efficiently as possible. And, most importantly, you need to do it again and again until you have something that truly solves the problem and meets the requirements.

This blog is devoted to exploring the success and failures of human endeavors as we look through the glass doors of Terman Engineering.

What are some of the ideas you still carry around with you from college?