Editor's Note: Voting for the Readers' Choice from among the winners of Inc.'s Best In Class Awards for today's best-designed American-made products has closed. The results: Announcing the Inc. Readers' Choice for Product Design 2014.
Though a great many products have stood the test of time (think, ballpoint pens and baking soda), Pepin Gelardi says that these days, good design is matter of evolution.
"Design is a form of problem solving that is aware of its own process and seeks to constantly improve," says Gelardi, who is a partner at Tomorrow Lab, a product design and development company in New York City. In other words, a well-designed product is typically only well designed until the next iteration comes out.
Entrepreneurs might cringe at the thought of having to revisit their product's design regularly, but, if you think about it, doing so makes sense, says Gelardi. After all, the best products should help solve a problem--and as problems evolve, so too should our responses to them.
To peel back that onion a bit more, here are Gelardi's edited responses to our top questions about design:
What's your favorite medium for design and why?
Pepin Gelardi: When exploring and planning, I love a whiteboard. It's a chance to bring a room of minds together to build an idea or solve a problem.
For product development, my company is built on obsessive prototyping of ideas and technologies. Desktop 3D printing and cheap, easy to program microchips live at the heart of this process allowing us to create prototypes that can teach us critical lessons about our users, the physical world, and methods of manufacturing.
Why should design matter to entrepreneurs and business owners?
PG: When comparing products that do and do not succeed in the market, there's a tendency to point to the 'better designed' object as the winner. However, you can't say the Apple iPod was designed well and that the Microsoft Zune wasn't. Clearly a lot of work went into both products and they were both great looking (I'm particularly fond of Astro Studio's design for the Zune HD) and both were easy to use. Once you step outside the product and into the product ecosystem and beyond, you begin to see where Microsoft failed to bring together as strong a vision.
What business leaders have to understand is that in the Apple example, design is integrated into the entire organization. In many large corporations, design is used to ensure that the end consumer is considered at every step of development. This is good. However, in the Apple example, a strong leader uses design to lead all aspects of the organization and design becomes a type of social contract between the various departments aligning everything.
How will design stay relevant in the future?
PG: Design is becoming a larger way of thinking and leading people to solve solutions. We need to focus on bigger problems and have the courage to offer solutions that require coordinated efforts to evolve organizations and affect policy. There's only so much we can do by designing ideas bound within the concept of a product. That said, I also feel strongly that physical solutions are critical to making an impact on the physical world where, to be honest, all our real problems reside.
What's one of the biggest opportunity in the design world?
PG: I think it's pretty well understood that if we keep making things and consuming them the way we're doing now, we're pretty much finished. Finding a way to sustain our extraordinary level of prosperity is easily our biggest opportunity and greatest challenge. It is an exciting and ongoing conversation in the design world.
What's your best advice for entrepreneurs interested in design?
PG: I want to encourage everyone to practice communicating visually every day. I genuinely feel that we're developing new ideas and technologies so fast that we're reaching the limits of written language. Don't get me wrong, language is still the best way to communicate and explore the human condition. But new ideas cannot grow through words alone. Visual investigation and communication foster a much higher level of collaboration.