Editor's Note: This article is part of a series that examines the lessons behind disruptive products through the lens of design.

Even if you've never bitten into a cronut, chances are you're familiar with the pastry sensation that took the world by storm last year.

Created by New York-based chef Dominique Ansel in May of 2013, the croissant-donut hybrid quickly attracted a cult following in cities across Europe and Asia. Sold for $5 a piece, the pastry Ansel refers to as "the most virally talked about dessert item in history," has spawned countless imitators, some of which have adopted similar names, such as the "doissant" or "doughssant." 

So how did the cronut generate enough buzz to create a black market on Craigslist?

Here are three design lessons from the cronut that together add up to a recipe for massive success:

1. Always be branding.

Like other portmanteaus such as "brunch" (breakfast + lunch) and "spork" (spoon + fork), the cronut sparked instant intrigue with consumers by blending the names of two highly recognizable products. But Ansel didn't stop there. He quickly claimed ownership of his invention by registering the name. Today, the Cronut brand is an internationally registered trademark of Dominique Ansel Bakery. 

2. Embrace differences.

While the combination of two existing pastries might come across as too gimmicky for some consumers, the cronut is a completley distinctive product with its own proprietary recipe. Unlike, say, the McDonald’s McGriddle, which substitutes small pancakes for slices of bread in a breakfast sandwich, designing the cronut required a significant amount of innovation. One of the reasons it launched to enormous fanfare is that nobody had ever tasted anything like it ever before. 

3. Break the rules.

Few chefs would bother selling a pastry that requires three days to make, but that's how long the entire process of creating a cronut takes, according to Ansel. Perfecting the process took two months and more than 10 recipes. While the exact recipe is still a secret, it involves frying yeast-leavened dough in grapeseed oil at a very specific temperature to keep the thin layers from breaking apart. Interestingly, the result is a product that has an extremely short shelf-life, as storing them in the refrigerator causes them to go stale and soggy. 

To add variety to the cronut, Ansel uses a new flavor each month. For the month of September, the flavor is Bosc Pear &  Sage Cream (with mixed citrus sugar).

What other culinary innovations do you admire? 

Published on: Sep 5, 2014