For many, Harry's is just a convenient razor delivery service--run out of blades, and you can get more quickly shipped straight to your door. But look a little closer at the company's razors, and you'll find an instructive story about product innovation and performance.

The shaving company recently partnered with, Portland-based, Mode Lab to create a new handle and not just any old handle. It's called the Winston, and it's the product of complex design  algorithms allowing for rapid iteration with sophisticated, responsive geometry.  While classic razors have a knurl pattern on the handle, the Winston touts a diamond-textured grip. The scale and depth of the texture varies based on human grip. 

All this was identified during the performance mapping and testing explored during the creation of the prototype. It was made possible through computational design. This is a process for exploring complex design issues through rules or algorithms. The method allows designers to encode information in a way that humans, computers, or both can readily formulate a response. Such a level of product refinement and detail was previously unachievable using conventional 3D CAD technology. 

Computational design represents a new paradigm of collaborative problem-solving (specifically, human plus machine collaboration). Algorithms are used to synthesize information and intent into a solution space of data-rich and performance-driven results. Few companies have innovation consulting, product design, full-stack development and advanced R&D all under one roof, however today's technology trends are evoking a fundamental shift in the behaviors of businesses and consumers alike. With this transformation, profoundly different ideas about the nature of products, design, and making have emerged. As product development becomes increasingly complex and distributed, conventional design tools and workflows are no longer sufficient.  Every organization now faces the challenge of re-configuring themselves to align with the systems, flows, and exchanges that shape a new era of design and production.

Firms like Mode Lab collaborate with companies of all shapes, sizes and sectors from automotive to CPG to drive product excellence. One of the secrets to Harry's success is employing computational design for product development.  Working with Mode Lab, Harry's explored a variety of schematic textures in an on-site design session. They mapped grip zones on the handle, identifying areas for control, manipulation, and requirements for manufacturing. As the project progressed, they narrowed the focus and increased the detail and fidelity of the concepts being explored, providing both visualizations and rapid prototypes to Harry's design team.

Mode Lab is a self-described advanced product creation "APC" consultancy.  Companies like Nike, Jaguar Land Rover and Ford have all made significant investments in this space.  As you ponder the impact of computational design and APC on your business, the typical best practices apply:

  • Define Product Requirements:  document must haves, nice to haves and spell-out KPIs.
  • Identify all stakeholders and responsibilities upfront.
  • Set a go/no-go date for bringing innovation to market, or leaving it in the parking lot.

Today, designers are in the business of transformation.  The best ones are coming from Carnegie Mellon and MIT rather than traditional design schools.  While you may or may not appreciate that an algorithm designed a razor, Harry's is a paragon for stellar business and product innovation.  Their secret is accessible to all.  If you don't have internal resources designing with data, partner with a firm that does today.

Published on: Apr 30, 2018