Editor's Note: This article is part of a series that examines the lessons behind disruptive products through the lens of design.
More than a decade ago, technology firm iRobot landed its first mass-market hit: the Roomba. A robotic vacuum cleaner that does all of the work for you was a pretty compelling proposition, which helps explain why consumers still love the Roomba so many years later. But it also helps that the company has continued to tweak and improve the design of its cleaning robot.
For example, the latest version of the Roomba (pictured above) holds 60 percent more dirt and uses five times more power than older models. That said, some of the design principles behind previous versions of the Roomba still serve as important lessons for entrepreneurs focused on creating disruptive new products.
Here are three things that have helped the Roomba become one of the most talked-about appliances in the world.
Automate as many features as possible.
On top of navigating floors (and avoiding stairs) automatically to efficiently clean entire rooms, the Roomba returns to its dock to recharge itself between cleanings. Roombas also automatically detect particularly dirty areas that need repeated cleanings and take multiple passes to vacuum these spots.
Minimize maintenance needs.
iRobot describes the latest version of the Roomba, the 800 Series, as "virtually maintenance free" thanks to its brushless extractors. By eliminating traditional bristle brushes and using treaded rubber rollers instead, the Roomba prevents tangles and hair jams that slow down traditional vacuum cleaners.
Design with customization in mind.
In addition to running on a customizable schedule to clean when it's most convenient--up to seven times per week--the Roomba can be programmed to avoid off-limit areas with a tool called the Virtual Wall that emits an infrared beam the Roomba will not cross.
By designing a truly disruptive product, iRobot successfully transitioned from a boutique engineering firm to a mass-market appliance company. What other design-centric companies do you admire?