The Future of Product Design pdf pdf

The Future of Product Design
Jonathan Follett

The Future of Product Design
by Jonathan Follett
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Chapter 1. The Future of
Product Design
Jonathan Follett

A Product Design Renaissance
The world is changing. The lines between software and hardware blur; fresh
approaches to manufacturing reduce the time from idea to market; and new
smart objects and systems herald our connected future.1
A product design renaissance might be on its way, but despite all this
potential and promise — or maybe because of it — the ride could well be a
bumpy one. The human aspect of the equation remains the x-factor. And, how
we work together as participants in this product revolution, both as people
and as organizations, will play a key role in the outcome.
There’s never been a better time to be a product designer, although there’s
also perhaps never been a more confusing time, either. Today, the
combination of emerging technologies and powerful new resources and
methods — from open source reference designs to crowdfunding — are
democratizing innovation, compressing the design cycle, and reshaping the

relationship between consumer and product. If the amalgam of user
experience (UX), software, industrial, material, and engineering design had a
name, it would probably be product design — although it’s likely that
product designers themselves wouldn’t agree on it.
In this report, we’ll examine from a product designer’s perspective the ways
in which these changes are disrupting design and the product lifecycle as well
as considerations for people and companies looking at new ways of
approaching product innovation and creation. This is not an all-encompassing
overview; rather, it’s a snapshot of a rapid evolution, as seen from the
trenches of product design.

Is This the Third Industrial Revolution?
Twenty-first century product design is being disrupted by factors both
cultural and technological. The confluence of crowdsourcing, new
manufacturing methods, and other emerging technologies has set the stage for
what we might call a Third Industrial Revolution. In a prescient article2 on
the next wave manufacturing phenomenon, The Economist postulated the
...the cost of producing much smaller batches of a wider variety, with each
product tailored precisely to each customer’s whims, is falling. The factory

of the future will focus on mass customization and may look more like...
weavers’ cottages than Ford’s assembly line.
In this new revolution, economies of scale and the mass production required
to reach these are replaced by the efficiency and leverage of highly targeted,
rapidly developed, and, hopefully, less wasteful products that retain an
artisanal value for the consumer.
Manufacturing for the mass market will no doubt remain for the many
products that have a universal appeal, but for those items that truly intersect
with our unique needs — that seem to have our personal imprint in them —
these individualized products will grow and flourish in a new period of
craftsmanship at scale.
In this burgeoning new era, the designer’s understanding of the user will be
paramount — an in-depth comprehension that goes beyond typical use cases,
workflows, or trite personas and begins to resemble something more like a
relationship that grows over time.
This understanding of the user DNA will drive product personalization. And
we’re not talking personalization in a trivial way, such as printing a child’s
name on a toy, or a family’s photo on a coffee mug; this new personalization
will be the creation of objects that fit into our daily lives with impeccable
ease. For example, for the busy parent perhaps a set of connected home

appliances that help to measure the overall nutrition, caloric intake, from
freezer to refrigerator, to oven for each family member’s meals; or for the

avid athlete, custom training gear that adheres to changing body
measurements and adjusts over time.
The “return to craftsmanship” will be transformative economically, as well.
Research from McKinsey Global Institute indicates that by 2025, additive
fabrication alone could have an impact of $550 billion3 as it changes forever
the manufacturing industry. Add this to the trillions of dollars of market
disruption for the Internet of Things (IoT), robotics, and so on, and we can
begin to appreciate the scale of change that is coming.
Reshaping the world
If past is indeed prologue, we must come to terms with the fact that although
the emerging technologies of the Second Industrial Revolution — from the
automobile to electric power — reshaped the world, they did so in many
ways that were negative as well as positive. From rampant pollution to the
abuse of our planet’s natural resources, the environmental consequences that
are the Second Industrial Revolution’s legacy remain critical areas with
which we must contend.
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, introducing millions of new things into our world,
it’s clear we must also consider design not just for mass adoption, but also for
mass decline and return to the stream of natural resources.
Everyone can sketch on a napkin
How are new products imagined, created, tested, and produced? Generally
speaking, this was once the purview of specialized professionals, backed by
large companies, who had the resources and knowledge to invest in timeconsuming R&D cycles, complex manufacturing lines, long supply chains,
and expensive marketing and distribution. And even though there were
certainly plenty of upstart startups and disruptors, these were far from the
Emerging technologies are not just changing what’s being made or how fast
it’s being developed, they’re also changing who is capable of making it. The

ambitious entrepreneur who understands an audience — the young mother
who has an idea for improving products for her baby or the coffee fanatic
who can see the future of specialized brewing — are enabled to move their
ideas from mind to reality, from napkin sketch to use by an appreciative
audience. And, as these technologies evolve and mature, we can expect more
democratization to come.

The Evolution of Product Design
The powerful interplay between innovative use of new technologies and
creative methods for working collaboratively is transforming product design.

New Ways of Working
Sometimes, we forget that we are still, relatively speaking, in the first
moments of the information age, saddled with the legacy structures of the
industrial past. These structures continue to govern and guide our interactions
— from societal to organizational to interpersonal — despite being relics of a
bygone era. As such, we are still discovering how to organize our efforts
together when it comes to knowledge work, whether that be scientific
discovery, engineering, design, or otherwise. But we are making progress.
As the creative class discovers and implements new forms of collaboration
around ideas and information, it opens new opportunities for building objects
in both the digital and physical worlds. And, if building on the work of others
is crucial to innovation and human advancement, the speed at which this
work is disseminated and re-used is also a critical factor. What the age of
information has given us is the ability to stand on the shoulders of others,
taking advantage of their efforts, to build new work, ideas, and even funding

in real time.
Preparing for a new product lifecycle
A product typically moves from design, to prototype, then into the
marketplace, through growth and maturity, and finally into decline. For
decades, this model has given business stakeholders, designers, and engineers
alike a way to understand and contextualize the interactions between a
product and the marketplace, and ultimately between the product and the
many people who use it. It is on this foundation that the practice of product
lifecycle management (PLM) has optimized the financing, development,
manufacturing, and marketing for companies.
Today, this familiar model is being upended by emerging technologies that
are not only reinvigorating existing categories but creating entirely new ones,
as well. 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 automated appliances to sensor laden
environments like Smart Cities — begin to take hold. Perhaps sooner than we

think, the lines between biological and mechanical products will follow suit.
Not only must companies contend with the difficulties of introducing
emerging tech into their product portfolio, they must negotiate a labyrinth of

complex factors as the product lifecycle itself is remade. Within this new
product lifecycle, as designers, we must be concerned with the myriad of
development and production considerations, which will vary at every stage.

Part 1. Hello, Market!
At the market introduction stage of the product lifecycle, the cost of
designing, prototyping, and validating with users continues to drop
precipitously due to advances in 3D printing, open source designs for
mechanical and electrical engineering, and of course, crowdfunding.

A Tale from the Trenches: Prototyping at iRobot
For a decade, 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. He is currently the CEO at Dragon Innovation, a
hardware innovation and manufacturing consultancy.
Scott reflects on his experiences with prototyping the original Roomba and
contrasts that with the prototyping process of today:
“Mechanically, we wanted to get a working prototype to be able to
understand how the robot behaved in unstructured environments. We
would create the files... and build $25,000 models of stereolithography, or

SLA, which was incredibly brittle. There are all sorts of 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.
Today, you could pick MakerBot for FDM [Fused Deposition Modeling]
or Formlabs for SLA, for a much cheaper price. In fact, for a couple
thousand bucks, 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,
at a fraction of the price, and a much quicker iteration cycle. Rather than
having to wait a week or two weeks to get your parts back, you can even
have them back in the morning. And this lets you go much faster.
On the electrical side at iRobot, when we wanted to build the first circuit
board to spin the wheel modules, we had to get down to the bare metal and
design our own H-bridge with flyback diodes and transistors, figure out
what components to pick, and actually do the hardcore engineering. It took
probably a month between designing it, sending the board out, getting the
board back, and writing the code just to get a simple motor to spin.
Whereas today, literally in 20 minutes, my 7-year-old son can grab an
Arduino, copy and paste some sample code, adjust the key variables, and
he’s spinning motors.
There’s been a really interesting abstraction from the complexity of how

the thing actually works to much more of a, ‘Let’s focus on getting the
product working and not worrying as much about the details.’ I think that’s
incredibly enabling for the prototype.”

Software and the Speed of Sharing
The speed, agility, and open ethos of the software world have made inroads
into product design and engineering, as well. In the past, software systems for
design and engineering were entirely closed, which limited sharing across big
teams; even more significant, it discouraged it across the industry. But that is
beginning to change as the sharing of mechanical and electrical designs
means that such elements are reusable.
In the realm of software development, 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. Electrical engineers are
starting to take a similar approach using services such as Upverter, where
they can share reference designs. Although still in its early stages, Upverter
has made the leap from an initial user base of hobbyists and hackers to
enterprise clients. Similarly, on the mechanical side, GrabCAD makes it
possible for engineers to share models so that they don’t need to design a
product from the ground up.
The move to cloud-based software is also helping to accelerate product
design. In the past, something as essential as CAD software could be a barrier
to entry for a startup. CAD software can be expensive, especially if you’re an
early-stage company with a great idea for a product and not much else. Enter
the next generation of CAD in the cloud, with less-expensive alternatives to
traditional seat licenses, like subscription pricing and even free versions.
CAD software is being reinvented with the nimble startups, makers, and
hackers in mind. In this realm, both established players like Autodesk, with
its Fusion 360 offering, and newcomers like Onshape, a company started by
the former founders of SolidWorks, are competing to become the product
designer’s choice.
Design, engineering, and project management techniques are beginning to
cross-pollinate across the domains of software and hardware, with a focus on
modularity of design and quick iteration. The timeline from the napkin sketch
to the works-like/looks-like model has become incredibly compressed,

making it possible now for designers to get something in a customer’s hands
quickly. Although the first prototype version might well be unrefined and
buggy, designers and engineers are able to learn much from quick iteration
cycles, as opposed to trying to make that perfect initial product — an ethos
not all that much different from that practiced by their counterparts in
And, on the business and finance side, crowdfunding is wrapping test
marketing, promotion, and preliminary sales into a convenient package. Early
adopters from Kickstarter or IndieGoGo become your core test audience,
giving startups a critical initial market for their new product ideas.
Crowdfunding also limits the amount of money you need to recoup from
R&D, or, at least, it gives you the opportunity to find that initial capital.

Part 2. 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, the next great challenge for product
companies comes with the shift to manufacturing in volume. Not only do
larger product runs require an equally large financial investment, but quality
control becomes increasingly difficult.
If all goes well on the market side, the adoption rate for your product 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
Unlike the initial design and prototyping phases of the product lifecycle,
change in manufacturing processes has been slower in coming, and for good
reason. Factories still use steel molds to create injection-molded parts, which
is by far the fastest and most reliable process for manufacturing runs of
plastic parts in volume. But steel, of course, can’t be easily changed after it’s
created, so the penalties for generating an incorrect mold can be substantial.
At least for the time being, you can’t 3D print a new steel mold. And, even
though 3D printing using metal is indeed an emerging technology, the low
surface quality of the print makes for a poor mold. However, as these
processes are refined, it seems clear that the next evolutionary phase of the
product renaissance could be on the volume manufacturing side. Looking
even farther out, we can see how the advances in emerging technologies like
robotics will make greater automation of manufacturing not only possible,
but likely.

A Tale from the Trenches: Technical Machine and the
Prototype-to-Production Problem
Technical Machine is a hardware startup headquartered in Berkeley,
California, that has found a niche selling boards that interactive product
designers can use from prototype into production. Technical Machine’s
Tessel 2, shown in Figure 1-1, appeals to those entrepreneurs who find
themselves caught in that awkward production middle ground where a startup
could be supported by thousands of crowdfunding backers, but lack the tens
of thousands of early adopters necessary to ensure the economies of scale that
make volume manufacturing sensible.

Figure 1-1. 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, it could help product designers and engineers take that next step.
The popular Raspberry Pi board, for instance, was designed to be a learning
tool; try to put it into your production product, though, and you’ll find that
the sourcing costs at volume make it prohibitive to use. Tessel 2 fills that gap,
serving not just as a development board, but also as a path from development
into production.
“If you’re generating the first batches of a product for early adopters, the
volumes needed can be in the low thousands. With these kinds of numbers,
it’s very possible that using an off-the-shelf part makes more sense
financially than building your own custom hardware,” says Jon McKay, CEO
of Technical Machine. With the Tessel 2, Technical Machine is taking
advantage of the economies of scale for off-the-shelf parts while still
allowing for some lightweight customization to match its customers’ specific

needs. As Figure 1-2 illustrates, this gives product designers a professionallooking offering, at an acceptable volume. “If [customers] are not using the
Ethernet, or USB ports, [or] some of the ten-pin module ports, let’s just take
those ports off and save them money on their bill of materials. That’s
relatively easy to do. We’re trying to find these creative ways to make
pseudo-customization possible at this median-level scale for people who are
trying to build products,” Jon explains.

Figure 1-2. Tessel 2 modules (Photo courtesy Technical Machine)

“We came from a web development background, and we just wanted to be
able to make hardware at the same sort of iteration speed that we made
software. Obviously it’s not going to be entirely possible because there’s
shipping physical goods involved in that, but... there’s a lot of room for

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. “You
have to pick a great contract manufacturer or factory to work with you. If you
get this right, you can build a really strong foundation and create a successful
company. But, if you get it wrong, then it’s like death by a thousand cuts, and
it’s very, very difficult to recover,” says Scott Miller, Dragon’s CEO.
Dragon is on the forefront of manufacturing service innovation, making the
process as transparent as possible and helping companies select factories
from a comprehensive network of service providers, such as the one shown in
Figure 1-3.

Figure 1-3. Factory workers in China assemble circuit boards. (Photo courtesy Dragon Innovation)

“More often than not, you’re not going to find them doing a web search,
because it’s very difficult to know who’s good and who’s not good. At
Dragon, we’ve got a database of a couple hundred factories we’ve worked
with and are constantly expanding that,” Scott explains.

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

Figure 1-4. The factory floor (Photo courtesy Dragon Innovation)

“At Dragon, we’re always agnostic on where our customers build. The only
thing we care [about] is that they succeed. Because we build a lot of
consumer electronics, China often makes sense; but if you’re doing lower
volume — say, under 5,000 units, as a rough guideline — the United States
makes tremendous sense,” adds Scott.
“What we typically see, if you contrast the United States and China, in China,
everything is very vertically integrated. So you’ve got the molding, the SMT
[Surface-Mount Technology] for the circuit board, the quality testing, and the
pack-out all in one facility. Whereas in the United States, it tends to be more
fragmented. You may work with a molding shop to do the injection molded
parts, and then a different circuit board shop to put together your PCBAs, and
then a different house to do the final assembly. You just structure the RFQ in
a manner that’s conducive to that, but the process is exactly the same.”

As product designers, it’s important that we understand how manufacturing
processes work, how they could change in the future, where there are risks,
and where there’s room for greater efficiency. However, with outsource
manufacturing this can be difficult to do because the industry lacks
transparency. In the future, we could benefit from software tools that enable
products to move through the process more predictably. But for the time
being, it might very well be that service innovation, like that provided by
Dragon, will be the driver of disruption.

David meets Goliath: Achieving Innovation Speed for
Enterprise Companies
With emerging technologies moving more quickly than ever, it can be hard to
steer a large vessel, such as an enterprise organization, to take advantage of
For larger companies that already have an established product portfolio and
are seeing innovation happening at the grassroots level, the ability to utilize
crowd-sourcing or rapid prototyping might still be problematic. The question
comes down to this: when is it appropriate 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. And, 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.
According to Dragon’s Scott Miller, “When it comes to product design and
development, 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. It’s certainly a challenge. If you look at
what it takes to move the needle for a big company versus a small one, it’s a
tremendous amount of volume. When you do that, there’s a lot more risk, that
it’s very difficult to fail fast to succeed sooner.”

Risk Taking and the Enterprise
Enterprise companies don’t want to lose out on opportunities because they
can’t take risks; they need new ways to evaluate innovative ideas and make
good decisions about developing their products. To solve this dilemma,
innovating in small bites, by acquiring startups or forming incubators —
where employees can have greater freedom to experiment outside the regular
organizational structure — is a reasonable strategy. For example, the Boston
area is a hotbed of large-company innovation lab activity, from CVS,
Johnson & Johnson, Staples, Verizon, and others.

Small Pilots
In the past, starting the manufacturing of a new product in significant volume
always required an enormous leap of faith. Unsurprisingly, the result was that
many projects never saw the light of day — a difficult outcome for product
designers, indeed. For even the largest of companies it can be understandably
difficult to justify occupying a manufacturing facility and initiating a
100,000-unit run when you lack all but the most basic of market validation.
However, in contrast today, as large companies recognize the importance of
rapid innovation, they’re finding ways to run smaller pilot programs —
manufacturing 5,000 to 10,000 units in order to get a full understanding of
the product/market fit. By testing products in the market at a small scale and
gathering data quickly, companies can make informed decisions about
whether they should scale-up manufacturing. If a company gets the signal
that there’s strength to a product line, they can ramp up to full-scale
production rapidly.

Developing Infrastructure
The product landscape is changing as Fortune 500 companies begin placing
their bets on emerging technologies. At the 2015 Consumer Electronics Show
(CES), Samsung announced its focus on the IoT and the connected home.
This might have seemed like a big bet for the tech giant. The bigger play,
however, might not be in the way Samsung changes people’s interactions
with their home appliances, entertainment, and living environments, but
rather in how the company creates the infrastructure that binds it all together.
The IoT itself still lacks a solid infrastructure, which might still be years from
being developed. “While the Internet itself is accessible, there remains a huge
gap between the devices that we create and getting to the Internet,” says Ben
Salinas, a designer and engineer at emerging technology consultancy,
Involution Studios. “WiFi networks require a lot of power to connect to and
are inconsistent. They’re not universal. We see a lot of devices tethering to a
phone to use that Internet connection. That still has issues.”
Salinas continues, “If you’re one of these small companies that are building a
product for less than a few million dollars, you probably are playing with the
frameworks that larger companies, like Samsung, Apple, and Microsoft, have
already created.”
When it comes to emerging technologies, for entrepreneurs and smaller
companies, the opportunities lie in bringing products to market quickly, even
if you’re playing on someone else’s network or using someone else’s
infrastructure. For the larger companies, making that network, driving the
standards, and owning the ecosystem are the big plays in the long term.

Part 3. Product as Dialogue
We are approaching a moment when product lifecycle maturity does not
preclude further innovation; rather, it provides a platform for it. In the past,
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. Of the many places in the product
development and manufacturing lifecycle that can be disrupted, this could be
one of the most significant. Emerging technologies, especially the bevy of
connected machines promised by the IoT, offer an opportunity for companies
to not only regularly update, but also analyze usage data returning from these
connected machines — making mass customization on a user level possible.
This data-driven interplay between company and consumer, between user and
designer, might begin to alter the product lifecycle to resemble more of an
ongoing flow.
If data flow goes both ways — a conversation between designer and user,
rather than a speech — the product represents a living relationship and is
never fully completed. Rather than think about a finished product, as
designers we should also incorporate into our thinking how a company can be
hyper-responsive to users of its products.
Connected devices and the IoT offer great potential for creating ongoing
dynamic interaction. For example, consider a product such as a washing
machine that can respond to energy cycles; variables, such as the speed and
pattern of agitation, and the amount and temperature of water can be
customized based on our personal usage patterns. Through this, the
relationship that we have with our washing machine changes, 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.

A Tale from the Trenches: Making LEO, The Maker
LEO, The Maker Prince is a book by Carla Diana (a Smart Design fellow and
New York Times contributor) that celebrates emerging technology, inspiring
young designers with a creative message, made possible by 3D printing.
LEO, a visitor from space who you can see in Figure 1-5, prints 3D models
based on sketches that are created by the book’s narrator. The imaginative
tale can truly become real for readers, as designs of the characters are
available for them to 3D print, along with various accessories, from musical
instruments to a planter to a chess set.

Figure 1-5. LEO, The Maker Prince (Photo courtesy Carla Diana)

But where the book really shines, at least from a design standpoint, is as an
example of a product as dialogue. Readers share their works on the book’s
website and Diana makes ongoing adjustments to the designs based on input
from them. So, the book in some sense, is always being updated, and Diana is
having a conversation with the book’s readers through the medium of a
physical product.
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, why they downloaded them, and what they did
with them. “That was a fascinating moment for me,” says Diana, “because I
felt like, ‘Wow, you could have never done this before.’”
“People commented to me about some of the prints. They said, ‘Oh, this
particular part grows more successfully for me standing upright.’ 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. That was a really interesting moment for me,

too, because I felt like, ‘Oh, I can try this and I can just change the file.’”

Figure 1-6. All of the characters from the book can be 3D printed. (Photo courtesy Carla Diana)

“I did that because I am envisioning this future where it comes to
distribution: A designer, manufacturer, entrepreneur no longer has to think
about, ‘Okay, 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,” states Diana enthusiastically.

A Tale from the Trenches: Understanding Consumer
Decision Making
How does a company know when it’s time to place a bet on emerging
“I think disruption for disruption’s sake will never win,” says Ellen DiResta,
a strategic design advisor for companies like Sanofi and Becton Dickinson,
and former Managing Director for innovation consultancy Design
DiResta goes on to say, “Every single client I have, I always love the moment
when I say to them: ‘Nobody wants your products. No one wants to buy an
extra thing. Nobody wants to think about your stuff. The people who think
the most about your products are you guys. That’s it. You have to give them
something. You have to enable them to do something. If you don’t know
what that is, and you’re busy just focused on your thing, you will miss the
mark eventually.’”
The relationship between the designer and the user of products is becoming
ever closer. Understanding the intrinsic motivations of the population
engaged with your company is paramount to facilitating those relationships
going forward. In many instances, companies base their product portfolios
and their future plans on emerging technologies and how they expect those
technologies to evolve. But the product-based relationship you have with
your customers can be deeper and potentially longer standing.
DiResta suggests that companies need to avoid being seduced by the
functionality of a potentially disruptive technology; instead, they need to ask,
“How can these capabilities better enable our customers?” At the same time,
the product designer needs to understand the full extent of a technology’s
capabilities, because from this knowledge, she can help define the desired
user experiences.
Companies can err by going too far in the opposite direction, as well —
expecting consumers to tell them what to do and what to design. When, in
reality, the motivators driving a consumer’s choices might be something that

they’re not ever going to be aware of, let alone be something that they can

Decision Motivators
“When I worked with a housewares company, I was interviewing women at
home who had kids in school. One lived in a very depressed area and another
person lived in Wellesley, Massachusetts, which is very affluent,” DiResta
“They had very similar values. Their choices were very different because
their means and their circumstances were very different. The woman in
Wellesley sent her kids to public school, because she grew up so privileged
and isolated and segregated... She felt like she lived in a bubble. She wanted
her kids to have a chance to be more normal. Wanted and picked Wellesley
and had a very, very nice house — but by her background standards, very
modest — because she wanted her kids to be normal.”
“The other woman home-schooled her kids, because she felt that the school
in town was just bad. Her house was not that great, but she said, “I can’t send
my kids to this school and expect them to ever get out of this town.”
DiResta continues, “So you would say they are very, very different. But the
way they made decisions and how they chose, if you reversed the two people,
they would be making the same choices as each other. The values that those
products or services had to speak to had to be the same.”
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. “That’s really what Apple did,” DiResta
says. “Nobody wants to interact with technology. Apple provided technology
in a way that you can work through technology to do the things you want to

Part 4. Design for End-of-Life
Sooner or later, a product will reach the end of its useful life. As overall
usage declines, a company will gradually reduce support for it, and
eventually “sunset,” or phase-out, that product.
If one of the natural outcomes of a Product Renaissance will be a great many
new products imagined and brought into the world, designers will
increasingly need to be concerned about the entirety of the product lifecycle
including its decline, and perhaps most important, with what happens to the
product after people are no longer using it.
Although we as designers might not like to admit it, the fact is that design
and pollution are inexorably connected. The design activities in which we
engage at the beginning of the product lifecycle inevitably create positive or
negative environmental outcomes at its end-of-life. To effect positive
outcomes, we can and should ask: “What are the considerations for
sustainability and environmental impact?”
This is not a new idea in design; rather, it is one whose time has come. The
Design for Environment (DfE) program, put in place by the United States
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as far back as 1992, includes as a
part of its toolkit the lifecycle assessment (LCA), “a systems-based approach
to quantifying the human health and environmental impacts associated with a
product’s life from ‘cradle to grave’.”
Today, using software tools such as thinkstep’s GaBi, designers can complete
a product lifecycle assessment to determine its carbon, water, and overall
environmental footprint, along with resource and energy efficiency for its
manufacturing and usage.
We can select materials that are environmentally friendly early in the
manufacturing process, because recently there has been great innovation in
materials such as biodegradable plastics.
From a recycling standpoint, the biggest opportunity might lie in Design for
Disassembly (DfD), 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. Perhaps
one day, hopefully in the not-too-distant future, we will have printed circuit
boards (PCBs) designed for easy component removal, minimizing the need
for desoldering and exposure to heavy metals.
Design for Remanufacturing (DfR) is a similar strategy that strives to remove
durable components of a product at the end of its lifecyle, reprocess them,
and use them once again in a newly created item.
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,
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. For both startups and large companies alike,
this systemic view of product design is worth remembering, when
encountering the pressures to release something quickly and just get a
product on the shelf.

On-Demand Production
In the 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. Today the print-on-demand segment of
the publishing industry ensures that books with an audience will never go out
of print. The digital files for any book can be stored in the cloud until a
customer orders it, at which point the book is printed, bound, and shipped.
It’s not hard to imagine a similar scenario for more complex products. There
are already 3D printing platforms today, such as Shapeways, for creating
simple objects on demand. In a similar way, distributed manufacturing is
becoming reality as crowdsource services such as 3DHubs give makers
access to an extensive local network of 3D printers. We can imagine how
distributed fabrication for business might be accomplished with such a
system: add together enough 3DHub providers in an area and you could
quickly complete a modest run, depending on the availability of the network.

In this evolving world of emerging technology and product creation,
designers who can create objects that are both compelling to the consumer
and within the bounds of manufacturing capabilities will be exceptionally
valuable. Understanding your materials — what they can do and what they
can tolerate — is key, be they plastics and metals or pixels and code. With
such an understanding, product designers can offer their insight, not only to
envision future products, but also to think about the process for getting there.
How do we approach product design and the evolving product lifecycle?
Here, inspired by Dieter Rams, the influential industrial designer known
worldwide for his landmark product designs for Braun and Vitsoe, 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.
To make a product useful and understandable, our understanding of the
user must be of primary importance.
Good product design is innovative in process.
Drawing on new ideas for working together — from crowdsourcing to
open source reference designs — we can stand on the shoulders of
others to create better products.
Good product design is environmentally friendly.
As we design, we must take into account end-of-life planning that
enables disassembly, recycling, and even remanufacturing.

Companies, Products, and Links
Throughout this report, we’ve discussed a variety of companies and products
to illustrate important concepts in and approaches to product design for
emerging technologies. Table 1-1 lists these companies and products, ordered
alphabetically, along with relevant links to further information.
Table 1-1. List of companies discussed







Fusion 360 Autodesk, Inc.




GitHub, Inc.




MakerBot Industries, LLC


OnShape, Inc.


iRobot Corporation

Shapeways Shapeways, Inc.

SolidWorks Dassault Systèmes SolidWorks
Tessel 2

Technical Machine


Upverter, Inc.


For a fabulous overview and vision of this universe and the technical trends driving it, check out the
report “Building a Solid World” by O’Reilly editors Mike Loukides and Jon Bruner.

2 (accessed April 20, 2015)


Disruptive technologies: Advances that will transform life, business and the global economy.

About the Author
Jonathan Follett is a principal at Involution Studios where he is a designer,
business lead, and internationally published author on the topics of user
experience and information design.
His most recent book, Designing for Emerging Technologies: UX for
Genomics, Robotics, and the Internet of Things (O’Reilly) was published in
December 2014. He is also a co-author of Beautiful Data: The Stories Behind
Elegant Data Solutions (O’Reilly). Over the past decade, Jon has written for
online and print publications including A List Apart and UX Matters.
Throughout his 15-year design career, Jon has contributed to beautiful, usable
software for enterprise, healthcare, and emerging technology clients, from the
Fortune 500 to the market leaders of the future. Jon is a classically trained
pianist who dreams of one day having a family rock band with his two sons.
Find him on Twitter at @jonfollett.

The universe of possibilities presented by emerging technologies, from the
IoT to robotics to additive fabrication, is vast and intimidating but also
inspiring. 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.
The designers, engineers, and product folks who were kind enough to talk
with me and inform and refine my thinking for this report include Drew
Carlton, Carla Diana, Jeff Champagne, Ellen DiResta, Craig Mauch, Jon
McKay, Scott Miller, and Ben Salinas. I couldn’t have put this together
without them.
As usual, the O’Reilly Media editorial team was fantastically supportive.
Both Mary Treseler and Angela Rufino have pushed me to articulate the
promise I see in the design field of the twenty-first century.
I should say, as well, that my wife Jen tolerates my late night writing binges,
of which she has supported more than her fair share.
Let’s make something great.

1. The Future of Product Design
A Product Design Renaissance
Is This the Third Industrial Revolution?
The Evolution of Product Design
New Ways of Working
Part 1. Hello, Market!
A Tale from the Trenches: Prototyping at iRobot
Software and the Speed of Sharing
Part 2. Growth and the Difficulties of Production in Volume
A Tale from the Trenches: Technical Machine and the
Prototype-to-Production Problem
A Tale from the Trenches: Dragon Innovation and the
Challenge of Going from One to Many
The Request-for-Quote process
David meets Goliath: Achieving Innovation Speed for
Enterprise Companies
Risk Taking and the Enterprise
Small Pilots
Developing Infrastructure
Part 3. Product as Dialogue
A Tale from the Trenches: Making LEO, The Maker Prince
A Tale from the Trenches: Understanding Consumer
Decision Making

Decision Motivators
Part 4. Design for End-of-Life
On-Demand Production
Companies, Products, and Links