The art of designing to fail with iterative design

Posted in Sales techniques and processes.

When it comes to the design and development of any new product, it inevitably goes through many stages. Tech start-ups prefer to use an iterative design approach, and many have done so with great success. However, while these companies have iterative development almost down to a tee, other industries, specifically those dealing in physical merchandise, still lag behind in adopting an iterative design process.

What is iterative design?

Iterative design can be described as a kind of ‘practice makes perfect’ approach to designing and developing. More formally, iterative design is defined as a process of repetitions (or iterations, if you like), whereby each repeat gets you closer to the desired result.

Designing products vs designing software

When it comes to designing an actual product as opposed to a software product, it is a lot more cost-intensive, and therefore perhaps also the reason why so many great product ideas gets left on the design floor at the first sign of failure. Unfortunately, the high cost of failure prevents many new business owners to fulfil their dreams of building and brining a winning product to market. According to the Harvard Business Review, almost 90% of all new products in the US fails when put to market, and subsequently, never makes a comeback as an improved model of its former self. Therefore, if one considers the costs involved of getting a product to market particularly for new small business owners, then perhaps following a more iterative process might be a better way of ensuring that your product does succeed.

How does it work?

The good thing about the iterative design process is that it avoids being overly complex. Henry Ford once said, “Failure is the opportunity to begin again, more intelligently”, and this is the essence of iterative design too.
It is a rather straight forward and easy to follow approach. Here we break it down to illustrate its simplicity:

Market need, design and build

First off, you need to identify if there is a need for your product by conducting thorough market research. Once this has been established, the design process can begin, followed by the building of a first prototype.

Test, redesign, test

Next, the prototype enters the all-important test phase where it is tested to see if it fulfils all the criteria set out at the start. The test is aimed to identify what is missing or what doesn’t work. You then fix your design and build a new prototype as set out by the first test. The process repeats itself until you are happy that you have created a winning product ready to be released for consumer use.

When you set out to design a new product, it is very important not to lose sight of your target market. They are, after all, your client base and it is them you need to please. Customer feedback is the next natural step to ensure that your product remains a success.

Fun fact: To test the efficacy of the iterative design process, Peter Skillman of Palm, Inc. invented the Marshmallow Challenge. As part of this challenge a group of kindergartners and a group of business school graduates are pitted against each other to see which group can create the highest possible free-standing structure with a marshmallow on top. The two groups are given 20 sticks of spaghetti, one yard of tape and one yard of string, and have 18 minutes to complete the challenge.

Through various observations, it was found that the kindergartners regularly build much higher structures than the business school graduates. The reason for this is that the kindergartners usually start the process by building a simple structure with the marshmallow on top, testing out the prototype, and then continuing based on those results. The business school graduates were often too busy competing for power and planning to get an effective result in time.

We recommended taking a look at Tom Wujec’s (a fellow at Autodesk) TED talk, “Build a Tower, Build a Team“, to get some more insight into the Marshmallow Challenge.