DESIGN

Forget 'Built to Last,' These Designers Build to Dazzle

If you think good design means allowing consumers to customize the color of your product, this is a must read.
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Editor’s Note: Vote for your pick among the winners of Inc.'s Best In Class Awards for today's best-designed American-made products. Inc.com announces the Reader’s Choice winner Friday, May 30.

Call it the design imperative.

If Apple taught us anything, it's that good design is no longer just "nice to have." It's a "must have."

Yet, what pray tell constitutes "good design?" As we narrowed down our list of the best designed American-made products around, we asked a panel of expert judges a variety of questions to get to the heart of what good design actually means. Here's what they said:


Jessica Banks
Founder and President
RockPaperRobot

What is your definition of good design?
I am thinking about a roasted leg of lamb. Every time my friend, Adam, makes this one dish, I am amazed by the apparent simplicity of the recipe and the presentation...the end product.

But Adam knows exactly how to cook the meat. He is constantly updating both qualitative and quantitative variables to calculate some asymptotic function of gustatory perfection. He knows how to season and how to serve the lamb so that all the complexity of his mental process is essentially hidden. To me, the meat tastes somehow exactly like it was meant to.

This is an analogy. Good design condenses a system of details into just the right thing for a particular situation--be it an intuitive use, an awe-inspiring form, a memorable experience, a disruption, a disappearance, a flexible solution, etc. And sometimes it makes us forget we are vegetarians.


Bill Burnett
Executive Director
Design programStanford University

What was your favorite product you designed and why?
One of my favorite projects ever was the Powerbook 500 series at Apple, which shipped in 1994. It was arguably the most advanced notebook at the time. We did the first track pad; the first laptop with Ethernet; the first dual battery set up where you could swap out the battery for an optional CDROM; the first stereo speakers and the first processor upgradable laptop. I was the project leader for the team, Ray Riley was the [industrial design] guy from the studio (Jony Ive was a junior designer at the time at Apple) and he did an award winning [industrial design].


Jonas Damon
Executive Creative Director
Frog Design

What should businesses know about design?
In the past couple of decades, we've proven that good design sells well. The top companies got to that spot because they are creating products that are useful, more satisfying and delightful. At the end of the day, if a company cares about its bottom line, it'll care about design.

Design doesn't have to cost more; it can end up costing less if, as designers, we're doing our job right. One of the roles design plays is to optimize process and lifecycle. Doing that will reduce cost.


Pepin Gelardi
Partner, Product Strategy and Industrial Design
Tomorrow Lab

What was the best-designed historical product and why?
The Ballpoint pen, designed by László Bíró, is one of the greatest communication tools ever created. A newspaper editor who was sick of dealing with the refills and smudges from fountain pens, he developed a solution that used the more viscous ink used in printing which eventually became the Bic pen we’ve all come to love. Of course, there’s a love-hate relationship with that design. It’s an often charmless, cheap piece of plastic, but its ubiquity is undeniable.

I also love to imagine it as an analog for the development of technology. Decades of design refinement have taken the ballpoint pen from a hot luxury item to a commodity that costs pennies. Think of an important device in your life that costs hundreds of dollars and imagine what the world would look like when its equivalent can be made for pennies.


Liz Gerber
Breed Junior Chair of Design
Segal Design Institute, Northwestern University

What was your favorite product you designed and why?
As a 16 year-old intern at an aerospace engineering company, I designed a fuel gauge for a commercial airplane. The design was not particularly unique or beautiful, but it worked. It was the first time I had been paid for designing a product and it was then that I realized that I could have a career as a designer.


Neil Grimmer
Co-founder and President
Plum PBC

How will design continue to remain relevant in the future?
The evolution from design just being product-centric to design being a way of thinking and a way of solving problems has future-proofed it in a lot of ways. Now people are taking that design thinking practice and applying it to solving business problems. It’s opening that notion of what design can be and the impact it can have in the world in a pretty big way.


Jonathan Adler
Founder
Jonathan Adler

What is your biggest piece of advice for aspiring young entrepreneurs?
"My one piece of advice is: Never ask for advice. Look, I started off as a potter. It is one of the most preposterous ideas for a job, and had I taken anybody's advice I never would be where I am. Think about it, it's a terrible idea to be a potter! But inevitably any creative undertaking will turn out to be a bad idea. There of course will be a million naysayers. So, just never ask anybody for advice." -Tickle Me Pink

IMAGES: Brett Affrunti
Last updated: May 27, 2014

DIANA RANSOM | Articles Editor

Diana Ransom is Inc.'s online articles editor. She has been covering the never-dull world of small business and entrepreneurship for years, at a variety of publications, including The Wall Street Journal, SmartMoney.com, the New York Daily News, Fast Company, and Entrepreneur. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.




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