BOB: What's that first client meeting like when you come back to
them with some research?
ROY: One thing we do is present the client with a list of attributes
for their future product--it has to be rugged, smart, precise, etcetera.
We do that with a system called the "Visual Library."
Once a month, the whole Continuum office gets together in one room--the
receptionist, designers, the people from accounting. We usually
have a couple of pizzas. There have been a bunch of products that
have been designed to appeal to designers. One way to avoid that
is to make sure you get regular people in the Visual Library meetings,
people who aren't infatuated with whatever Audi's doing at the moment.
It's a way to get their opinions on design.
We'll take a word like "Trustworthy." People bring in
images from books, magazines, the Web that associate with that word.
We even solicit sounds, images, textures, and materials to better
understand the qualities of the word. Then we create an inspiration
board of "Trustworthy" images--maybe pictures of a golden
retriever or Chevy truck, things like that. When you're thinking
about pure styling, you look at these boards and try to incorporate
these elements into the product.
So instead of doing a bunch of sketches, we make sure a client
buys off on those qualities before we start sketching. That way
we don't get the VP of marketing picking a design because it uses
his favorite color. It's a way to take the emotion out of it, and
decide on a logical level. Then the consumer will pick it up on
an emotional level. We've done "Robust," "Fast,"
"Cute," "Sporty." "Sporty" has a lot
of "Cute" to it. Look at the a Miata, for example.
BOB: How did you get started in ID?
ROY: I didn't know anything about industrial design growing up.
I was a kid from Brooklyn. I made graffiti in junior high. My tag
was Spice One. Looking back on it, graffiti almost becomes an addiction--ugh,
this sounds like therapy talking about it--but running around with
a can, it's like you see a wall and you have to put your mark on
it. And the bigger and cleaner the surface is, the more you got
to put your mark on it because people are going to see your name
up there and say, "Dang."
And the other part I liked about it was doing large pieces, which
is essentially graphic design, typography, color, layout, format.
That's what led me down this path. I knew I wanted to do something
creative in college. When I took a graphic design course it college,
it clicked--this is legal graffiti.
I went to RISD, studied graphics and loved it, but a lot of the
stuff you do in graphics has a limited life span and the results
are too fleeting. You might do a poster for a movie that runs for
a month or two. I got into packaging, but I wasn't content with
putting a label on a box.
BOB: What was the first product development project you worked
My graduate thesis was entitled "Power to the People."
That was a great project. At the time, technology design was geared
toward the business professional, toward middle-class professionals
and up. The opportunity was to get things to the everyday consumers.
How could I design for people who ride the bus to work? One thing
about approaching bus stops and starting to talk to people--they
think you're some kind of weirdo. The first thing I had to do was
break the ice and make them understand that I'm not some kind of
nut. I told them I was doing a project on technology. At first they
couldn't give you any ideas because they don't know what they want.
People only understand what they're familiar with. And then, where
I could, I said, "What do you have in your purse?" "What's
in your wallet?" I don't know who doesn't have a stack of receipts
in there, or the thousands of cards you get from Stop and Shop or
pharmacy. I asked them, "What are the problems of your life."
"It's hard to keep track of money," was one answer, "Where
does it go?"
From there I designed some concepts that addressed those needs.
It won a few awards.
BOB: I heard you recently worked on some successful residential
windows. How did you apply your research skills to that project?
ROY: Andersen is about quality windows that are really weather-tight.
But there were a lot of inexpensive vinyl and aluminum windows coming
into the market, and more and more consumers were buying them. This
was the shift going on. We did a whole bunch of research, and figured
out that Andersen makes a 30-year guarantee, but people who build
now only expect to be in their house for 5 - 10 years. That guarantee
isn't as valuable. You can either get a house with Andersen windows,
or you can build an additional floor with the money you save on
cheap windows. Once the sticker comes off, not many people would
know what kind of windows you have. People were trading down to
get the whirlpool Jacuzzi tub.
Andersen didn't want to water down the brand. They wanted a product
with the same quality for a different price. They had to do something,
but they didn't know how. They only know how to make a good window.
They didn't have the structure to know what people look for when
they buy windows, and they wanted to take some business away from
the cheaper competitors. We talked to contractors, architects, homeowners,
wives, husbands. We went to Home Depot and stationed ourselves in
We tried to design a window to meet everyone 's needs for a very
strict price limit. We had to come up with a lot of ideas that would
save money on the manufacturing process. For weather-resistance,
we tried to eliminate the seams wherever possible, so dirt or water
wouldn't get into the seam.
For the first prototype, we made the best looking window we possibly
could. It was 60 percent more than our price target. But then we
had something to aim for. It helped us figure out what the constraints
were. We found that people had to see the wood, and that wood was
going to add another two dollars on each window. But everyone saw
that that money added so much to the window. The world is full of
these kinds of compromises.
But we didn't want a plain looking window. Andersen was only going
to make one window, so we designed a window we call a "considered
neutral." We wanted to add just enough detail to make it look
considered--where it would look fine on a Victorian, colonial, or
modern house. We still wanted the architect and the builder to be
BOB: You can't make a more permanent statement than windows.
ROY: Yup, when people drive by the house, I want them to say, "Now,
that's a gorgeous house. Who designed that?"
Bob Parks (bobparks-at-yahoo.com) writes about industrial design, consumer
technologies, and the outdoors for such magazines as Business 2.0, Outside,
and Wired. He lives with his wife, Eileen, and son and daughter, Archer
and Lucy, in Brattleboro, Vermont.
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