Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Applying Pareto's Principle to Product Design

It's been a while, but I realized this is a good place to start putting down product designs and ideas again...

so I just went out for a run and I was thinking about the value of product features (I really need to get out more). I was thinking about all the products and services I use day-to-day and considering all the "assets" that they provide. 

For example, my car stereo offers FM radio, AM radio, CD capability, a clock, and a handful of audio controls. when I consider the usage of each of the assets, I realize that the CD is a completely wasted asset for me. If I had paid for the stereo, I would have wasted my money on an under-utilized asset. If I had to rank all the possible assets and draw a line where I don't want to pay for them anymore, the only ones that would probably make the cut would be AM, audio controls, and a currently missing set of assets, mobile phone and iPod integration. Perhaps this isn't the best example to pick, but there's something to be said for completely stripped-down, well-designed products that nail the primary asset and restrain themselves from doing anything else. 

In many ways, this restrained approach to design is what Apple does best. The iPad could have done more, but it doing to might have diminished its meaning as a product (see: Roberto Verganti's Design Driven Innovation). I believe that this is also the type of thinking that drives the netbook and tablet trend in general. Over 80% of computer users don't use the vast majority of all the product's bells and whistles, so why not create something that offers them just what they need (and do it really well)? The Flip Mino video camera and Boston-based Litl Webbook are perfect showcases of this concept. By only offering the "80% case" features, they were able to reduce the price dramatically and offer a more simple user experience. Why should the average consumer pay more for bells and whistles that they don't need?

The point is that people are overloaded with complicated technology and crave simplicity. It's human nature. Unfortunately, it's much easier for product firms to sell new features and performance capabilities than it is to sell simplicity. However, I like to think that consumers are starting to send the right messages with the success of the Flip, iPad, Kindle, etc.

So.. I'm going to begin development of a process for systematically creating inexpensive products that people enjoy using...

Here's a ROUGH draft of my steps to this point:

1. Pick a product category
2. List all the candidate product assets (these can be functions, components, whatever)
3. Define a single primary asset
4. Rank assets by frequency of usage (this may reveal latent user values)
5. Aggressively apply Pareto's Principle to the assets, drawing a hard line at the 80% assets that are only used 20% of the time
6. Engineer the primary asset to be at the "very good" level in the asset category
7. Design the product architecture and form to showcase the primary asset while logically integrating the supporting assets in a way that is complementary and suitably accessible

An inexpensive, simple, easy-to-use product that does the most important thing really well

- Streamlined product architecture and design leads to a more efficient development and manufacturing process with less ambiguity and rework
- Simplified products will be perceived as easier to learn, more enjoyable to use. More likely to become a product that people love to use.
- Smart and scaled back design minimal features reduces costs, and as a result, enables a competitive price point