Now is the time for us as designers, innovators, strategists, planners, and businesspeople to really dig deep, contemplate, question, reflect, and find those new uncontested white market spaces where we can grow, build and dominate the industry with good products and purposeful brands.
Spring has finally surfaced, bringing its warmth, sunshine, happiness, blooming buds, and bird songs to our very backyards. It’s a great reminder that, although we all saw first-hand how vulnerable we are as a human species, in our ecosystems, economies, and businesses, it’s a new year again. Good will prevail. What happened happened. Now is the time for us as designers, innovators, strategists, planners, and businesspeople to really dig deep,contemplate, question, reflect, and find those new uncontested white market spaces where we can grow, build and dominate the industry with good products and purposeful brands.
This past covid-clouded year has given us all a chance to look at things differently across many facets of life and business. People’s sentiments and sensibilities have changed. Their needs, wants, dreams, desires, and how they perceive the world has shifted dramatically “overnight”. In this brave new telecommuting, teleconferencing, and teleshopping world, our target audiences have also suddenly enlarged and the scope & possibilities for impact have expanded.
With this comes new problems to solve, but also countless new opportunities – mega as well as microscopic. If you haven’t already, now is the time to invest in new organic ways of claiming market space as a businessperson, or pushing the envelope on novel, “way out there” ideas as a corporate designer, or making it happen with a new product launch as an entrepreneur. Yes, it’s not just about solving problems right now, it’s also time to be vigilantand embrace those new opportunities.
At Sundberg-Ferar, we’re swamped with work right now from clients who see this, who want to contribute to society right now, and who are choosing to allocate their resources to make it happen. In some cases, this even means repurposing aspects of their resources or manufacturing capabilities to say “hey, maybe this isn’t what we intended or had planned, but here’s an opportunity, and we can do something new here.” This the time to experiment.
So take this as a call to action for everyone reading this. (That means you too!) Today, we’re witnessing a time of renaissance, the spirit of which hasn’t been seen since the 60s and 70s, when man landed on the moon and there was an explosion of grassroots level innovation, optimism, and drive to create new things. Granted, the moon landing was a positive trigger for innovation, whereas the trigger today has come with a lot of suffering and grief. Nonetheless it’s still a trigger and a wake up call for all of us. Now is the time to invest in innovation! Now is the time to determine our collective future in this accelerated world.
Remember Innovation is NOT an insurance, it’s an investment.
Recently, we invested our own time in redesigning our website, which was a bit of a big deal for us. Since Sundberg-Ferar was founded in 1934 and we’re one of the longest-standing studios in North America, there was a lot of thought and time that went into distilling both our rich collective heritage and current future-looking innovations into a unified online identity. Through this entire process, it distilled down to one thing for us: “Meaningful Solutions through Exceptional Design” – which we’ll break down into 7 foundational mindsets or principles for you here. These are principles that, over our 87 years in design and innovation, we’ve found to be critical in delivering exceptional design that not only makes your product/services portfolio successful, but also aligns with your business strategy to fuel growth.
As you seize the day, like we said above, these 7 foundational mindsets will help prime you for your ambitious innovation and design efforts!
1. Clearly focus on the human
Yes, tech is key in enabling great products, but great product design can come from nowhere else than a human-centered foundation; understanding how humans will use and misuse your product or service, what they really want from it, what they don’t care about, and how it will fit into their existing lifestyles.
There’s no other way than to start by understanding what’s going on in the minds of your users, their influencers, and all the other multi-users and stakeholders of the product. This means seeking out your users in the environment where they’ll be authentically using the product, or at the point of origin. We have to intentionally make an effort to not be fixated only within the walls of the lab or design studio. Get yourself immersed in the field or use. Observe first, and don’t immediately extract answers. Remember, the designer is not the user!
2. Next-level design
We have to aspire to next-level design as designers and innovators. We should not merely create commodities that contribute to a sea of sameness. If you are doing something, just because your competition is doing it, that’s not an innovation strategy, that’s simply following. Unless you mature beyond this, you’ll be doomed to constantly squabble over one little slice of available market share along with countless competitor across the globe. We must make our solutions more purposeful, useful, usable, clever, and beautiful, via anticipating the needs of the end users, giving them a chance to self-select themselves for your product. You want to be a market leader and attract users to your brand.
3. Making things work
Design starts with emotion, but delivers on the real object. Throughout the process, we have to always be thinking about how we’re going to make the product work. Engineering is indispensable to design and the degree to which these two are joined at the hip will determine the product’s quality and functionality. The product has to be technically feasible, physically sound and manufacturable in the chosen process. Here at Sundberg-Ferar, we intentionally keep our engineering and design teams working in sync from beginning to end of each project. This helps ensure no loss in translation of the product’s strategic intent. Thankfully, living here in Michigan, we also have access to a wealth of local resources, suppliers, and manufacturing talent to make anything work – literally anything, from toasters to tractors, bicycles to walking cars, and wearables to heart lung machines!
4. Be Different by design
Start embracing “Polarization”. That’s one of the primary pathways to success. All the best products today were polarizing at first, and if people have strong reactions to your product like love or hate, it does not mean you’re doing something wrong! If you see polarized reactions to your product, it’s actually a clear indication that you’re on the right track. It’s already expected that the product will be functional, usable, useful, ergonomic etc .Those are the table stakes. You have to make your products different to transform them from a commodity to a sought-after product.
And yes, “different” can be good or bad. This is where you have to bring in rigorous design research methods to discover your target segment’s adoption propensities, likes and dislikes, and which of your concepts are the “right kind of different” to attract the early-adopters in the market. You have to determine the right kind of different for your product to make it a market leader in your target segment.
5. Align your product to your business strategy
Although the human centricity of your product is pivotal, in the end it might fail if it’s not also aligned to your existing business strategy. As a business you have the obligations of making money and staying in the black. Whether you’re a global enterprise or a startup, you have to understand your core competencies and other numerous economic factors like your subscription cycles, cross-docking, manufacturing capabilities, and organizational functions, platform locking, partnerships, etc. The product must be designed to work seamlessly with all of these essential aspects of your business. As we always say: Good design is good business. Moreover, your users, even if they don’t explicitly notice, will feel and experience that harmony of product and business in the quality of their user experience, in how the digital side of the product compliments the physical side, and also in the accompanying service components they receive from your company. This harmonious “singularity-focused”experience is what will keep your users coming back for more!
6. Envision the Future
Any successful company has to keep one eye on the horizon at all times. Yes, the here and now has to be managed. Cash flow is and always be king, and making your products faster, better, cheaper, lighter weight, sensorified, etc, are all important. However, you also have to understand how to prepare now for the future – the possible futures, probable futures, preferable futures, and most importantly the generative future that you (and a design studio like us) envision and create. We all must have a disciplined practice within our companies of extending our vision forward to a future ideal state, putting a proverbial stake in the ground 5, 10, or 15 years out (depending on your domain ) and then back-casting to the present to embark on that path you have identified. Without implementing this as a rigorous company-wide practice and investing at least 8-10% of your budget in R&D (this is our minimum advisable %), you simply won’t be prepared for the future. You’ll be stuck in an endless reactive cycle instead of being able to lead the market by anticipating user needs and offering them a meaningful solution before your competitors. Don’t be a laggard. Don’t get stuck in the game of catching up. Kedge to your future envisioned state.
And yes, as a disclaimer here, we know that nobody can truly know what the future holds. (Just a look at the black swan event triggered by COVID-19. No body predicted that!) However, you can at least paint multiple possible scenarios so that your company is prepared for those possibilities. Again, none of us can plan for and generate this ideal future alone. We all must work together with our complementary players, collaborators, creative supply chain, and adjacent industry forces. Our industry and society are products of complex adaptive systems; they’re always in motion and always changing. But that can be harnessed by a proper innovation strategy approach that addresses these forces. It’s always a collaboration to envision and create the future.
7. The art of making
Admittedly, the world of VR/AR is expanding daily and alternate forms of reality are becoming ubiquitous, BUT nothing will ever or can ever replace the need for the physical art of making. If we lose our ability or willingness to roll up our sleeves and get down and dirty, to build those prototypes, to touch, feel, and physically experience what we’re trying to build, we will continue to miss make-it-or-break-it aspects of the user experience we’re creating. Whether a physical product, digital UI, or service, it’s creating physical prototypes of these use cases, interfaces, or service flows that will give you fast, rich, and often unexpected insights. Yes, we can all work in CAD, but the immediacy of physical aids, prototypes, mock-ups, and 3D sketches is irreplaceable. As designers, innovators, and businesspeople, we must invest in prototypes, mock-ups, and this art of making. In the beginning, you should always start with low-fidelity mock-ups using non-precious materials, and then as you mature your product, you can bring in the real craftsmen who build those high-fidelity, production-intent models to hand-off to manufacturing.
So there you have it!
Whether you’re an enterprise, mid-size company, or a startup/entrepreneur, these 7 principles will get you started in making sure that together, we create good, clean, and honest design that will pave the way for your business growth and sustainable success. That’s an 8-decade “proven” foundation for design that makes peoples lives better and more beautiful!
And hey, if you’re looking for an innovation partner to help you realize your product design & strategy goals, or you’re looking for design leadership to bring more skills and guidance to the table – reach out to us!
We’d love to talk! firstname.lastname@example.org
Principal, Director of Strategic Growth
Jeevak brings energy, passion & curiosity to his role at Sundberg-Ferar. With his unique blend of education and experience in industrial design, engineering and business, he is a rallying voice for the optimal inclusion of the end user’s unmet needs and unspoken wants in the core value proposition of a company’s products / service portfolio, to generate sought-after shareholder value. Jeevak has more than 26 years of professional design experience, first in India for 7 years at Tata Motors, and then in the U.S. for 19 years at GM Design and now Sundberg-Ferar. Jeevak is also board member of many prominent design associations and think tanks. For more details, check out his bio!