The Future of
Product Design

Jonathan Follett

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. . . . . . . . . . . . Hello. . Product as Dialogue Part 4. . . . and Links 1 4 5 7 16 20 22 23 v . 1 A Product Design Renaissance The Evolution of Product Design Part 1. . Design for End-of-Life Conclusion Companies. . Products. . . . . . . . Growth and the Difficulties of Production in Volume Part 3. .Table of Contents The Future of Product Design. Market! Part 2. . . . . . . .


The human aspect of the equation remains the x-factor. And. either. and reshaping the relationship between consumer and product. and engineering design had a name. 1 For a fabulous overview and vision of this universe and the technical trends driving it. the combination of emerging technologies and powerful new resources and methods—from open source reference designs to crowdfunding—are democratizing innovation. Today. compressing the design cycle. software. and new smart objects and systems herald our connected future. material. although there’s also perhaps never been a more confusing time. how we work together as participants in this product revolution. 1 . will play a key role in the outcome. The lines between software and hardware blur. but despite all this potential and promise—or maybe because of it—the ride could well be a bumpy one. fresh approaches to manufacturing reduce the time from idea to market. it would proba‐ bly be product design—although it’s likely that product designers themselves wouldn’t agree on it. indus‐ trial.1 A product design renaissance might be on its way. check out the report “Building a Solid World” by O’Reilly editors Mike Loukides and Jon Bruner. If the amalgam of user experience (UX). There’s never been a better time to be a product designer. both as people and as organizations.The Future of Product Design —Jonathan Follett A Product Design Renaissance The world is changing.

it’s a snap‐ shot of a rapid evolution. we’ll examine from a product designer’s perspective the ways in which these changes are disrupting design and the prod‐ uct lifecycle as well as considerations for people and companies looking at new ways of approaching product innovation and cre‐ ation. In this new revolution. workflows. hopefully. 2015) 2 | The Future of Product Design . Is This the Third Industrial Revolution? Twenty-first century product design is being disrupted by factors both cultural and technological. or trite personas and begins to resem‐ ble something more like a relationship that grows over time. but for those items that truly intersect with our unique needs—that seem to have our per‐ sonal imprint in them—these individualized products will grow and flourish in a new period of craftsmanship at scale. For example. weavers’ cottages than Ford’s assembly line. In this burgeoning new era. rapidly developed. such as printing a child’s name on a toy. or a family’s photo on a coffee mug. This understanding of the user DNA will drive product personaliza‐ tion. In a prescient article2 on the next wave manufacturing phenomenon. new manufacturing methods.economist. the designer’s understanding of the user will be paramount—an in-depth comprehension that goes beyond typical use cases. The factory of the future will focus on mass customization and may look more like. for the busy par‐ 2 http://www..In this report.. and other emerging technologies has set the stage for what we might call a Third Industrial Revolution. The Economist postulated the following: . is falling. (accessed April 20. Manufacturing for the mass market will no doubt remain for the many products that have a universal appeal. as seen from the trenches of product design. economies of scale and the mass production required to reach these are replaced by the efficiency and leverage of highly targeted. less wasteful products that retain an artisanal value for the consumer. The confluence of crowdsourcing. with each product tailored precisely to each customer’s whims. This is not an all-encompassing overview. this new personalization will be the creation of objects that fit into our daily lives with impeccable ease. and. And we’re not talking personalization in a trivial way.the cost of producing much smaller batches of a wider variety..

3 Disruptive technologies: Advances that will transform life. who had the resources and knowledge to invest in time-consuming R&D cycles. backed by large companies. From rampant pollution to the abuse of our planet’s natural resour‐ ces. from freezer to refrigerator. And even though there were certainly plenty of upstart startups and disruptors. business and the global economy. Reshaping the world If past is indeed prologue. and so on. this was once the purview of specialized profes‐ sionals. Research from McKinsey Global Institute indicates that by 2025. Fast forward to the twenty-first century: If we consider the massive number of new objects that a product renaissance—propelled by the IoT and 3D printing—could bring. The “return to craftsmanship” will be transformative economically.ent perhaps a set of connected home appliances that help to measure the overall nutrition. A Product Design Renaissance | 3 . they did so in many ways that were negative as well as positive. these were far from the norm. Add this to the trillions of dollars of market disruption for the Internet of Things (IoT). Everyone can sketch on a napkin How are new products imagined. it’s clear we must also consider design not just for mass adoption. and expensive marketing and distribution. introducing millions of new things into our world. and produced? Generally speaking. additive fabrication alone could have an impact of $550 bil‐ lion3 as it changes forever the manufacturing industry. but also for mass decline and return to the stream of natural resources. as well. created. caloric intake. the environmental consequences that are the Second Industrial Revolution’s legacy remain critical areas with which we must con‐ tend. to oven for each family member’s meals. or for the avid athlete. long supply chains. and we can begin to appreciate the scale of change that is coming. we must come to terms with the fact that although the emerging technologies of the Second Industrial Revo‐ lution—from the automobile to electric power—reshaped the world. complex man‐ ufacturing lines. tested. robotics. custom training gear that adheres to changing body measurements and adjusts over time.

through growth and maturity. whether that be scientific discovery. the speed at which this work is disseminated and reused is also a critical factor. ideas. and even funding in real time. These structures continue to govern and guide our interactions—from societal to organizational to interpersonal— despite being relics of a bygone era.Emerging technologies are not just changing what’s being made or how fast it’s being developed. As the creative class discovers and implements new forms of collab‐ oration around ideas and information. As such. then into the marketplace. they’re also changing who is capable of making it. this model has given business stakeholders. What the age of information has given us is the ability to stand on the shoulders of others. and engineers alike a way to understand and contextualize the inter‐ 4 | The Future of Product Design . But we are making progress. For decades. it opens new opportunities for building objects in both the digital and physical worlds. in the first moments of the information age. Preparing for a new product lifecycle A product typically moves from design. to build new work. The Evolution of Product Design The powerful interplay between innovative use of new technologies and creative methods for working collaboratively is transforming product design. we are still discovering how to organize our efforts together when it comes to knowledge work. to prototype. And. we can expect more democratiza‐ tion to come. or otherwise. if building on the work of others is crucial to innovation and human advancement. as these technologies evolve and mature. design. The ambitious entrepreneur who understands an audi‐ ence—the young mother who has an idea for improving products for her baby or the coffee fanatic who can see the future of special‐ ized brewing—are enabled to move their ideas from mind to reality. engineering. saddled with the legacy structures of the industrial past. taking advantage of their efforts. designers. New Ways of Working Sometimes. And. and finally into decline. we forget that we are still. from napkin sketch to use by an appreciative audience. relatively speaking.

and mar‐ keting for companies. Within this new product lifecycle. He is currently the CEO at Dragon Innovation. we wanted to get a working prototype to be able to understand how the robot behaved in unstructured environments. There are all sorts of Part 1. A Tale from the Trenches: Prototyping at iRobot For a decade. which will vary at every stage. Scott reflects on his experiences with prototyping the original Roomba and contrasts that with the prototyping process of today: “Mechanically. Today. as well. It is on this foundation that the practice of product lifecycle management (PLM) has optimized the financing. Market! | 5 . Scott Miller was an engineering lead at iRobot where he contributed to the creation of the seminal in-home service robot: the Roomba automated vacuum cleaner.actions between a product and the marketplace. and validating with users continues to drop precipitously due to advances in 3D printing. which was incredibly brittle... we must be concerned with the myriad of development and production considerations. manufacturing. the lines between biological and mechanical products will follow suit. We can already see that the lines between software and hardware products disappearing as the many variants of the IoT—from connected objects such as wearables and automa‐ ted appliances to sensor laden environments like Smart Cities— begin to take hold. Perhaps sooner than we think. they must negotiate a labyrinth of complex factors as the product lifecycle itself is remade. Hello. Part 1. and build $25. as designers. We would create the files. a hardware innovation and manufacturing con‐ sultancy. Market! At the market introduction stage of the product lifecycle. Not only must companies contend with the difficulties of introducing emerging tech into their product portfolio. the cost of designing. open source designs for mechanical and electrical engineering. crowd‐ funding. development. Hello. and ultimately between the product and the many people who use it.000 models of stereolithog‐ raphy. and of course. this familiar model is being upended by emerging technolo‐ gies that are not only reinvigorating existing categories but creating entirely new ones. or SLA. prototyping.

it dis‐ couraged it across the industry. my 7-year-old son can grab an Arduino. In the past. getting the board back. and writing the code just to get a simple motor to spin. services such as GitHub make it easy to keep track of and share code—creating a virtuous cycle in which designers and engineers can build upon the foundations of open source libraries and contribute back to the larger community. It took probably a month between designing it. as well. we had to get down to the bare metal and design our own H-bridge with flyback diodes and transistors. even more significant. Today. where they can share reference designs. software systems for design and engineering were entirely closed. Simi‐ larly. adjust the key variables. on the mechanical side. Rather than having to wait a week or two weeks to get your parts back. you can even have them back in the morning. ‘Let’s focus on get‐ ting the product working and not worrying as much about the details. you could pick MakerBot for FDM [Fused Deposition Mod‐ eling] or Formlabs for SLA.” Software and the Speed of Sharing The speed. literally in 20 minutes. Although still in its early stages. On the electrical side at iRobot. at a fraction of the price. and open ethos of the software world have made inroads into product design and engineering. In the realm of software development. you can actually buy your own machine and be able to create models that work even better than what we had 10 or 15 years ago. when we wanted to build the first circuit board to spin the wheel modules. for a much cheaper price. But that is beginning to change as the sharing of mechanical and electrical designs means that such elements are reusable. figure out what components to pick. And this lets you go much faster.examples of us turning off the cliff detectors and having the robot just drive off the end of the table and shatter itself to pieces. agility.’ I think that’s incredibly enabling for the prototype. There’s been a really interesting abstraction from the complexity of how the thing actually works to much more of a. copy and paste some sample code. Upverter has made the leap from an initial user base of hobbyists and hackers to enterprise clients. and actually do the hardcore engineering. which limited sharing across big teams. Electrical engineers are starting to take a similar approach using services such as Upverter. Whereas today. sending the board out. GrabCAD makes it possible for engi‐ 6 | The Future of Product Design . In fact. and he’s spinning motors. and a much quicker iteration cycle. for a couple thousand bucks.

the next great challenge for product companies comes with the shift to manufacturing in Part 2. something as essential as CAD software could be a barrier to entry for a startup. designers and engineers are able to learn much from quick iteration cycles. Growth and the Difficulties of Production in Volume When you’ve proven there’s a product/market fit for your prototype and validated the features and price point. like subscription pricing and even free versions. on the business and finance side. The timeline from the napkin sketch to the works-like/looks-like model has become incredibly compressed. CAD software can be expensive. with less-expensive alternatives to traditional seat licenses. with its Fusion 360 offering. Crowdfunding also limits the amount of money you need to recoup from R&D. and project management techniques are begin‐ ning to cross-pollinate across the domains of software and hard‐ ware. In this realm. engineering. with a focus on modularity of design and quick iteration. makers. Growth and the Difficulties of Production in Volume | 7 . and newcomers like Onshape. making it possible now for designers to get something in a customer’s hands quickly. especially if you’re an early-stage company with a great idea for a product and not much else. Design.neers to share models so that they don’t need to design a product from the ground up. crowdfunding is wrapping test marketing. The move to cloud-based software is also helping to accelerate prod‐ uct design. it gives you the opportunity to find that initial capital. a company started by the former founders of SolidWorks. Enter the next generation of CAD in the cloud. and hackers in mind. as opposed to trying to make that perfect initial product—an ethos not all that much different from that practiced by their coun‐ terparts in software. are compet‐ ing to become the product designer’s choice. And. promotion. and preliminary sales into a convenient package. or. CAD soft‐ ware is being reinvented with the nimble startups. at least. Early adopters from Kickstarter or IndieGoGo become your core test audience. giving startups a critical initial market for their new product ideas. both established players like Auto‐ desk. Part 2. In the past. Although the first prototype version might well be unrefined and buggy.

Unlike the initial design and prototyping phases of the product life‐ cycle. California. If all goes well on the market side. even though 3D printing using metal is indeed an emerging technol‐ ogy. so the penalties for generating an incorrect mold can be substantial. the adoption rate for your prod‐ uct will accelerate—represented by the so-called growth “hockey stick” on the graph—as the product’s audience moves from early adopters to more general acceptance. Techni‐ cal Machine’s Tessel 2. But steel. However. can’t be easily changed after it’s created. change in manufacturing processes has been slower in com‐ ing. A Tale from the Trenches: Technical Machine and the Prototype-to-Production Problem Technical Machine is a hardware startup headquartered in Berkeley. Factories still use steel molds to create injection-molded parts. 8 | The Future of Product Design . appeals to those entre‐ preneurs who find themselves caught in that awkward production middle ground where a startup could be supported by thousands of crowdfunding backers. we can see how the advances in emerging technologies like robotics will make greater automation of manufacturing not only possible. of course. shown in Figure 1-1. Not only do larger product runs require an equally large financial investment. and for good reason. that has found a niche selling boards that interactive product designers can use from prototype into production. but likely. you can’t 3D print a new steel mold. but lack the tens of thousands of early adopters necessary to ensure the economies of scale that make vol‐ ume manufacturing sensible. At least for the time being. Looking even farther out.volume. the low surface quality of the print makes for a poor mold. which is by far the fastest and most reliable process for manufacturing runs of plastic parts in volume. And. it seems clear that the next evolutionary phase of the product renaissance could be on the vol‐ ume manufacturing side. but quality control becomes increasingly diffi‐ cult. as these processes are refined.

the volumes needed can be in the low thousands. it could help product designers and engineers take that next step. at an acceptable volume. The popular Raspberry Pi board. was designed to be a learning tool. That’s relatively easy to do. serving not just as a development board. With the Tessel 2. The Tessel 2 board (Photo courtesy Technical Machine) The team at Technical Machine realized that because most existing prototyping products on the market today weren’t designed to scale for production.” says Jon McKay. Technical Machine is taking advantage of the economies of scale for off-the-shelf parts while still allowing for some lightweight customi‐ zation to match its customers’ specific needs. let’s just take those ports off and save them money on their bill of materials. We’re trying to find these creative ways to make Part 2. though. [or] some of the ten-pin module ports. but also as a path from development into pro‐ duction. try to put it into your production product. Tessel 2 fills that gap.Figure 1-1. and you’ll find that the sourcing costs at volume make it prohibitive to use. CEO of Technical Machine. As Figure 1-2 illus‐ trates. this gives product designers a professional-looking offering. for instance. Growth and the Difficulties of Production in Volume | 9 . “If you’re generating the first batches of a product for early adopters. it’s very possible that using an off-the-shelf part makes more sense financially than building your own custom hardware. or USB ports. “If [customers] are not using the Ethernet. With these kinds of numbers.

. there’s a lot of room for improvement. Tessel 2 modules (Photo courtesy Technical Machine) “We came from a web development background. you can build a really 10 | The Future of Product Design . but. and we just wanted to be able to make hardware at the same sort of iteration speed that we made software. “You have to pick a great contract manufacturer or fac‐ tory to work with you. Figure 1-2.” A Tale from the Trenches: Dragon Innovation and the Challenge of Going from One to Many Dragon Innovation is a manufacturing services firm that helps both startups and established companies negotiate the difficult terrain of outsourced production and the challenge of moving from prototype to volume. If you get this right.” Jon explains.pseudo-customization possible at this median-level scale for people who are trying to build products.. Obviously it’s not going to be entirely possible because there’s shipping physical goods involved in that.

(Photo courtesy Dragon Innovation) Part 2. Dragon is on the forefront of manufacturing service innovation. Dragon’s CEO.strong foundation and create a successful company. and it’s very. Factory workers in China assemble circuit boards. But. if you get it wrong. Growth and the Difficulties of Production in Volume | 11 .” says Scott Miller. such as the one shown in Figure 1-3. making the process as transparent as possible and helping compa‐ nies select factories from a comprehensive network of service pro‐ viders. very dif‐ ficult to recover. Figure 1-3. then it’s like death by a thousand cuts.

It’s critical in the RFQ.. based on your visit. making money when shipping products in volume. you’ll come back and do the apples-toapples comparison to understand the key cost drivers. and then how they line up. therefore. as well as being able to make comparisons between different factories. as well as the key areas in which they’re looking for assistance from the factory.” Scott explains. At Dragon. the capability of the team. The second part of the RFQ is the Bill of Materials (BOM). the team at Dragon recommends that you have three to five factories bid on your work so that you can have a strong basis for a line-by-line pricing comparison. and team. you’re not going to find them doing a web search. which specifies all the component parts and quantities needed to construct the end product. start to figure out who’s good to work with. things like that. “Once you’ve got that. this document can be crucial because reputable factories in the Far East work with substantially larger customers. The third part is the all-important schedule. If you’re a startup. The Request-for-Quote process For the product designer. As Scott explains. Then. understanding the ins and outs of putting together a Request for Quote (RFQ) can be intimidating.” 12 | The Future of Product Design . because it’s very difficult to know who’s good and who’s not good.. not in short runs. The BOM is critical for having insight into the cost of everything that’s going into a product. As a part of an RFQ package. you go visit the factories [Figure 1-4]. The first part of the RFQ consists of a document describing the product. a company is in a great position to pick a factory. that a startup illustrate for potential manufacturing partners the opportunity that comes from working with them. we’ve got a database of a couple hundred factories we’ve worked with and are constantly expanding that.“More often than not. Having gone through that process. company. finally.

So you’ve got the molding.” As product designers. In the future. You may work with a molding shop to do the injection molded parts. it’s important that we understand how manu‐ facturing processes work.000 units.Figure 1-4. where there are risks. You just struc‐ ture the RFQ in a manner that’s conducive to that. everything is very vertically integrated. how they could change in the future. and then a different circuit board shop to put together your PCBAs. and where there’s room for greater efficiency. and then a different house to do the final assembly. but the process is exactly the same. in China. and the pack-out all in one facility. the SMT [Surface-Mount Technology] for the circuit board. it tends to be more fragmented. Growth and the Difficulties of Production in Volume | 13 . if you contrast the United States and China. Because we build a lot of consumer electronics. The factory floor (Photo courtesy Dragon Innovation) “At Dragon. China often makes sense. However. but if you’re doing lower volume—say. “What we typically see. the quality testing. under 5. The only thing we care [about] is that they succeed. we could ben‐ efit from software tools that enable products to move through the Part 2. as a rough guideline—the United States makes tremendous sense. we’re always agnostic on where our customers build. with outsource manufacturing this can be difficult to do because the industry lacks transparency. Whereas in the United States.” adds Scott.

will be the driver of disruption. The question comes down to this: when is it appropri‐ ate to retool a product process when you’ve got standard operational procedures that make money for you today? The ambiguity that can come with experimentation is always scary and potentially costly. there’s a lot more risk. it’s a tremendous amount of volume.process more predictably. For example. the Boston area is a hotbed of 14 | The Future of Product Design . To solve this dilemma. it can be hard to steer a large vessel. If you look at what it takes to move the needle for a big company versus a small one. For larger companies that already have an established product port‐ folio and are seeing innovation happening at the grassroots level. it might very well be that service innovation. by acquiring start‐ ups or forming incubators—where employees can have greater free‐ dom to experiment outside the regular organizational structure—is a reasonable strategy. David meets Goliath: Achieving Innovation Speed for Enterprise Companies With emerging technologies moving more quickly than ever. It’s certainly a challenge.” Risk Taking and the Enterprise Enterprise companies don’t want to lose out on opportunities because they can’t take risks. the ability to utilize crowd-sourcing or rapid prototyping might still be problematic. the biggest thing on the minds of the CEOs of larger companies is: ‘How to get an enterprise to go faster? How do we get the speed of an entrepreneur to innovate and stay on top of things?’ Their biggest concern is how do they innovate more quickly. that it’s very difficult to fail fast to succeed sooner. they need new ways to evaluate innova‐ tive ideas and make good decisions about developing their products. such as an enterprise organization. like that provided by Dragon. And. When you do that. According to Dragon’s Scott Miller. to take advantage of them. But for the time being. “When it comes to product design and development. there are many aspects of innovation process that don’t match up with the large company production methods optimized to do one thing really well. innovating in small bites.

“If you’re one of these small companies that are building a product for less than a few million dollars. Developing Infrastructure The product landscape is changing as Fortune 500 companies begin placing their bets on emerging technologies. entertainment. They’re not universal.” Salinas continues. This might have seemed like a big bet for the tech giant.000-unit run when you lack all but the most basic of market validation. indeed. the result was that many projects never saw the light of day—a difficult outcome for product designers. At the 2015 Consumer Electronics Show (CES).” says Ben Salinas. Unsurpris‐ ingly.large-company innovation lab activity. Johnson & John‐ son. By testing products in the market at a small scale and gathering data quickly. starting the manufacturing of a new product in signifi‐ cant volume always required an enormous leap of faith. and others. might not be in the way Samsung changes people’s interactions with their home appliances. If a company gets the signal that there’s strength to a product line.000 units in order to get a full understanding of the product/market fit. The IoT itself still lacks a solid infrastructure. as large companies recognize the impor‐ tance of rapid innovation. from CVS. For even the largest of companies it can be understandably difficult to justify occupying a manufacturing facility and initiating a 100. That still has issues. they can ramp up to full-scale production rapidly. they’re finding ways to run smaller pilot programs—manufacturing 5. you probably Part 2. Growth and the Difficulties of Production in Volume | 15 . in contrast today. However. Involution Studios. which might still be years from being developed. but rather in how the com‐ pany creates the infrastructure that binds it all together. Verizon. “WiFi net‐ works require a lot of power to connect to and are inconsistent. companies can make informed decisions about whether they should scale-up manufacturing. however. Small Pilots In the past. and living environments. We see a lot of devices tethering to a phone to use that Internet connection. there remains a huge gap between the devices that we create and get‐ ting to the Internet. Staples. “While the Internet itself is accessible. The bigger play. Samsung announced its focus on the IoT and the connected home. a designer and engineer at emerging technology consultancy.000 to 10.

have already created. and Microsoft. Of the many places in the product development and manufacturing lifecycle that can be disrupted.” When it comes to emerging technologies. If data flow goes both ways—a conversation between designer and user. Rather than think about a finished product. Through this. driving the standards. might begin to alter the prod‐ uct lifecycle to resemble more of an ongoing flow. and the amount and tem‐ perature of water can be customized based on our personal usage patterns. Connected devices and the IoT offer great potential for creating ongoing dynamic interaction. Apple. offer an opportunity for companies to not only regularly update. For example. such as the speed and pattern of agitation. mak‐ ing that network.are playing with the frameworks that larger companies. this could be one of the most signifi‐ cant. This data-driven interplay between company and consumer. consider a product such as a washing machine that can respond to energy cycles. Product as Dialogue We are approaching a moment when product lifecycle maturity does not preclude further innovation. as designers we should also incorporate into our thinking how a company can be hyper-responsive to users of its products. Emerging technologies. and the decisions that the designer and the manufacturer make about which wash cycles to push to us become valuable touchpoints in an ongoing conversation. For the larger companies. In the past. even if you’re playing on someone else’s network or using someone else’s infrastructure. between user and designer. and owning the ecosystem are the big plays in the long term. but also analyze usage data returning from these connected machines—making mass customization on a user level possible. the opportunities lie in bringing products to market quickly. companies have dealt with mature product lines—those with wide adoption but minimal growth—by adding more features and attempting to find new uses and audiences to rejuvenate them. rather. the relationship that we have with our wash‐ ing machine changes. variables. like Sam‐ sung. Part 3. it provides a platform for it. especially the bevy of connected machines promised by the IoT. for entrepreneurs and smaller companies. 16 | The Future of Product Design . rather than a speech—the product represents a living relation‐ ship and is never fully completed.

A Tale from the Trenches: Making LEO. is always being updated. as designs of the characters are available for them to 3D print. at least from a design standpoint. a visitor from space who you can see in Figure 1-5. along with various accessories. Figure 1-5. LEO. Product as Dialogue | 17 . and Diana is having a conversation with the book’s readers through the medium of a physical product. is as an example of a product as dialogue. made possible by 3D printing. The Maker Prince LEO. and what they did with them. “That was a fascinating moment Part 3. The Maker Prince is a book by Carla Diana (a Smart Design fellow and New York Times contributor) that celebrates emerging technology. the book in some sense. LEO. The Maker Prince (Photo courtesy Carla Diana) But where the book really shines. One reason Diana created a children’s book about 3D printing was to put virtual objects such as those in Figure 1-6 out in the world as an experiment to see who downloaded them. Readers share their works on the book’s website and Diana makes ongoing adjustments to the designs based on input from them. The imaginative tale can truly become real for readers. from musical instruments to a planter to a chess set. So. why they downloaded them. inspiring young designers with a creative message. prints 3D models based on sketches that are created by the book’s narrator.

manufacturer. “because I felt like. They said. (Photo courtesy Carla Diana) “I did that because I am envisioning this future where it comes to distribution: A designer.” says Diana.’ I worked as hard as I could to try to get the objects to print as well as they would with a typical FDM at-home printer. entrepreneur no longer has to think about. you could have never done this before. ‘Oh.’” “People commented to me about some of the prints.’” Figure 1-6. well how many parts of this do I have to make and where does it get warehoused? Where does it get distributed and what retailers is it going to? There’s that whole dream of the streamline distribution and I think it’s very realistic. too. That was a really interesting moment for me. because I felt like.for me. ‘Okay. I can try this and I can just change the file.” states Diana enthusiastically. ‘Oh. ‘Wow. All of the characters from the book can be 3D printed. A Tale from the Trenches: Understanding Consumer Decision Making How does a company know when it’s time to place a bet on emerg‐ ing technologies? 18 | The Future of Product Design . this particular part grows more successfully for me standing upright.

’” The relationship between the designer and the user of products is becoming ever closer. Part 3.“I think disruption for disruption’s sake will never win. In many instances. as well —expecting consumers to tell them what to do and what to design. let alone be something that they can articulate. the motivators driving a consumer’s choices might be something that they’re not ever going to be aware of. Nobody wants to think about your stuff. a strategic design advisor for companies like Sanofi and Becton Dickinson. Understanding the intrinsic motivations of the population engaged with your company is paramount to facili‐ tating those relationships going forward. in reality. “How can these capabilities better enable our custom‐ ers?” At the same time. “They had very similar values.” says Ellen DiResta. they need to ask. When. she can help define the desired user experiences. because from this knowledge. You have to give them something.” DiResta elaborates. I was interviewing women at home who had kids in school. No one wants to buy an extra thing. Their choices were very different because their means and their circumstances were very different. That’s it. But the product-based relationship you have with your customers can be deeper and potentially longer standing. “Every single client I have. the product designer needs to understand the full extent of a technology’s capabilities. Companies can err by going too far in the opposite direction. and you’re busy just focused on your thing. instead. I always love the moment when I say to them: ‘Nobody wants your products. Massachu‐ setts. Product as Dialogue | 19 . DiResta goes on to say. Decision Motivators “When I worked with a housewares company. you will miss the mark eventually. One lived in a very depressed area and another person lived in Wellesley. The people who think the most about your products are you guys. If you don’t know what that is. You have to enable them to do something. DiResta suggests that companies need to avoid being seduced by the functionality of a potentially disruptive technology. which is very affluent. compa‐ nies base their product portfolios and their future plans on emerg‐ ing technologies and how they expect those technologies to evolve. and former Managing Director for innovation consultancy Design Continuum.

” Part 4. To effect positive outcomes. they would be making the same choices as each other. because she felt that the school in town was just bad. very nice house—but by her background standards.” DiResta says. “So you would say they are very. a company will gradually reduce support for it.” or phase-out.The woman in Wellesley sent her kids to public school.” The disruptive technologies that will be the most successful will enable people to do what they want to do from the beginning—just in better ways that fit with their changing context. Wanted and picked Wellesley and had a very.. because she grew up so privileged and isolated and segregated. designers will increasingly need to be concerned about the entirety of the product lifecycle including its decline. If one of the natural outcomes of a Product Renaissance will be a great many new products imagined and brought into the world. The design activities in which we engage at the beginning of the product lifecycle inevita‐ bly create positive or negative environmental outcomes at its end-oflife. As overall usage declines. if you reversed the two people. a product will reach the end of its useful life. and perhaps most important. She felt like she lived in a bubble. that product. very modest—because she wanted her kids to be normal. with what happens to the product after people are no longer using it. the fact is that design and pollution are inexorably connected. But the way they made decisions and how they chose. Although we as designers might not like to admit it. “I can’t send my kids to this school and expect them to ever get out of this town. “That’s really what Apple did. “Nobody wants to interact with tech‐ nology. but she said.” DiResta continues. Apple provided technology in a way that you can work through technology to do the things you want to do.” “The other woman home-schooled her kids. The values that those products or services had to speak to had to be the same.. and eventually “sunset. very different. Her house was not that great. Design for End-of-Life Sooner or later. She wanted her kids to have a chance to be more normal. we can and should ask: “What are the considerations for sustainability and environmental impact?” 20 | The Future of Product Design .

We can select materials that are environmentally friendly early in the manufacturing process. For both startups and large companies alike. On-Demand Production In the future. minimizing the need for des‐ oldering and exposure to heavy metals. and use them once again in a newly created item. because recently there has been great inno‐ vation in materials such as biodegradable plastics.This is not a new idea in design. includes as a part of its toolkit the lifecycle assessment (LCA). designers can complete a product lifecycle assessment to determine its carbon. making electronic products much easier to separate into their core components—from circuit boards to metal and plastic parts—and sending each of these into their appropriate recycling streams. “a systems-based approach to quantifying the human health and environmental impacts associated with a product’s life from ‘cradle to grave’. Design for Remanufacturing (DfR) is a similar strategy that strives to remove durable components of a product at the end of its lifecyle. it is one whose time has come. put in place by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as far back as 1992. there is a tremendous opportunity here for product designers to take responsibility for and control of the aspects of the product lifecycle that were overlooked during previous eras. hopefully in the not-too-distant future. we can also consider that there might be no need to phase out products if manufacturing can be generated on demand and the price for creating individual versions is low. the biggest opportunity might lie in Design for Disassembly (DfD). and overall environmental footprint. rather. using software tools such as thinkstep’s GaBi. along with resource and energy efficiency for its manufacturing and usage. Design for End-of-Life | 21 . Even though this kind of design for a product’s end-of-life—whether it be for disassembly and recycling or remanufacturing—does take more effort. we will have printed circuit boards (PCBs) designed for easy component removal. water. when encountering the pressures to release something quickly and just get a product on the shelf. this systemic view of prod‐ uct design is worth remembering. Today the print- Part 4. From a recycling standpoint. The Design for Environment (DfE) program. Perhaps one day.” Today. reprocess them.

How do we approach product design and the evolving product life‐ cycle? Here. Conclusion In this evolving world of emerging technology and product creation. the influential industrial designer known worldwide for his landmark product designs for Braun and Vitsoe. We can imagine how distributed fabrication for business might be accom‐ plished with such a system: add together enough 3DHub providers in an area and you could quickly complete a modest run.on-demand segment of the publishing industry ensures that books with an audience will never go out of print. Drawing on new ideas for working together—from crowdsourc‐ ing to open source reference designs—we can stand on the shoulders of others to create better products. for creating simple objects on demand. not only to envision future products. 22 | The Future of Product Design . be they plastics and met‐ als or pixels and code. distributed manufacturing is becoming reality as crowdsource services such as 3DHubs give mak‐ ers access to an extensive local network of 3D printers. such as Shapeways. designers who can create objects that are both compelling to the consumer and within the bounds of manufacturing capabilities will be exceptionally valuable. bound. In a similar way. Understanding your materials—what they can do and what they can tolerate—is key. It’s not hard to imag‐ ine a similar scenario for more complex products. Good product design is innovative in process. at which point the book is printed. To make a product useful and understandable. inspired by Dieter Rams. The digital files for any book can be stored in the cloud until a customer orders it. our understand‐ ing of the user must be of primary importance. we’ll conclude with three principles for good product design in this brave new world of emerging technologies: Good product design serves as an enabler for people. With such an understanding. but also to think about the process for getting there. depending on the availability of the network. product design‐ ers can offer their insight. There are already 3D printing platforms today. and shipped.

com/For-the-Home/VacuumCleaning/Roomba Shapeways GaBi thinkstep http://www. and even remanufacturing. Roomba 880 iRobot Corporation GrabCAD GrabCAD http://www. http://www. Products. As we design. Inc.tessel. Inc.arduino.solidworks. along with relevant links to further information. List of companies discussed Product Company Link 3DHubs 3DHubs http://www.thinkstep. ordered SolidWorks Dassault Systèmes SolidWorks Tessel 2 Technical Machine Upverter Upverter. http://www. LLC http://www.github.grabcad. OnShape OnShape.makerbot. we must take into account end-of-life planning that enables GitHub GitHub. http://www.3dhubs. we’ve discussed a variety of companies and products to illustrate important concepts in and approaches to product design for emerging technologies.onshape. Arduino Arduino http://www.Good product design is environmentally friendly.irobot. http://www. Products.shapeways. and Links | 23 . MakerBot MakerBot Industries. recycling. Table 1-1 lists these com‐ panies and products. and Links Throughout this report. Table 1-1.

Carla Diana. from the IoT to robotics to additive fabrication. His most recent book. of which she has supported more than her fair share. and product folks who were kind enough to talk with me and inform and refine my thinking for this report include Drew Carlton. and the Internet of Things (O’Reilly) was pub‐ lished in December 2014. As usual. engineers. He is also a co-author of Beautiful Data: The Stories Behind Elegant Data Solutions (O’Reilly). I should say. Designing for Emerging Technologies: UX for Genomics. Robotics. I couldn’t have put this together without them. is vast and intimi‐ dating but also inspiring. Ellen DiResta. Find him on Twitter at @jonfollett. as well. Jon is a classically trained pianist who dreams of one day having a family rock band with his two sons. Both Mary Treseler and Angela Rufino have pushed me to articulate the promise I see in the design field of the twenty-first century. Product design is changing so quickly that there can be no shame in admitting that even those of us closest to it can only guess where it’s going. Jon has written for online and print publications including A List Apart and UX Matters.About the Author Jonathan Follett is a principal at Involution Studios where he is a designer. Scott Miller. business lead. and emerging tech‐ nology clients. . Over the past decade. Jon has contributed to beauti‐ ful. Jon McKay. Let’s make something great. healthcare. Throughout his 15-year design career. Acknowledgements The universe of possibilities presented by emerging technologies. the O’Reilly Media editorial team was fantastically suppor‐ tive. usable software for enterprise. Jeff Champagne. The designers. and Ben Salinas. and internationally published author on the topics of user experience and information design. from the Fortune 500 to the market leaders of the future. that my wife Jen tolerates my late night writing binges. Craig Mauch.