Great Product Design is often said to be iterative. Right from the inception to the creation of a final product, iteration has been the key to the success of many products leading by design; Tesla, Apple, and other global marquees often come to one’s mind. Iterations of old ideas, iterations of existing solutions, and iterations of practices have all been crucial triggers in achieving a well-designed product. However, what’s worth noting is that some of the greatest examples of Product Design are not the ones that are merely known for their shape or form or “design” in the conventional sense, but the ones whose under-the-hood functions have been designed to efficiently tackle tough problems and use cases without much pomp and show. More importantly, the ones that understand their users in and out and go beyond this understanding to predict user interactions. All these decisive factors put together, make the journey of the idea to the product very unique and noteworthy in each case. In this edition, we had a conversation with Vinay Reddy, co-founder of Sickle Innovations, to understand and discuss his unique journey as he leads a design-focused startup solving tough problems in the realm of Indian agricultural products. Excerpts from the conversations:
- Sickle’s product development journey:
I started this as my academic project work at IISc, which involved a lot of fieldwork to find out problems faced by the farming community in different societies and regions. In my research, harvesting cotton manually was the problem/trigger that I found to be most crucial. In response, we found out that an automated solution would simplify and benefit the interests of the farming community. The success of that first solution encouraged us to take further steps in creating more solutions and commercialisation.
- Underlying principles and philosophy:
I feel, taking the human/user-centric design approach has been very crucial for us since we work in the bottom-of-the-pyramid market. We spent a significant amount of our product development time in the field with our users and faced our fair share of surprises as our product underwent testing in the real scenario.
Another aspect is from the manufacturing point-of-view. During the prototyping stage, we generally do not consider the design for mass production, which ultimately ends up requiring a complete redesign when the product transitions from a prototype to a product in the market. We learned how some features become very difficult to accommodate since we didn’t consider the feasibility of mass production earlier.
- Customer/user engagement:
It’s important to engage with the customer/user at the very beginning of the project starting with the user study, even though their feedback, comments, etc., may vary at different phases of product development. For example, when we go for a user study, we get to hear very specific problems, but not enough details about them; when we take our prototype for feedback, we get to know some more details regarding the problems (second layer), which are sometimes very crucial. At the same time, judgment goes a long way in filtering many of the comments from the engagement. Finally, when we make our actual sales, the first few customers provide us with some real feedback because they paid for the product!
- Difficulties in communicating design to users:
In the BOP segment, we have experienced this major problem; communicating the complete product and features to the potential users. We simply used videos of the product to overcome this problem.
We then got on Vinay’s more subjective side to get his opinion on some of the more finer matters related to Product Design:
- Most well-designed product developed by an Indian company/startup:
I admire the recently developed sub-20HP tractors which have been introduced by almost all the major companies. Yuvraj from Mahindra was one of the earliest in the Indian market, which came at a time when all the tractor companies were going for higher HP tractors. This experiment of smaller tractors has changed the game for many manufacturers. Earlier, smaller tractors were being developed in regional areas, but they were not launched nationwide. These small tractors consume much less fuel and perform almost all farm-related activities, you can also see them being used with small trailers!
- Most well-designed product developed by a non-Indian company/startup:
Designs by Braun are, according to me, the best designed products with least elements. Specially, Dieter Rams’ “less but better” philosophy is one I am most impressed with.
- A poorly-designed product?
Design being good or bad is completely subjective! If one considers the product’s commercial success as a primary parameter to evaluate the product, then there have been so many failures. I would say the most glorious failure in the Indian design industry was Simputer, a product which was way too ahead of its time.
At Sickle, we have faced a few failures, especially at times when decisions are driven by the designers’ own emotions rather than rationality. Bigger teams help in this scenario as a group takes the decision.
Finally, we asked Vinay to leave us with some key resources on Product Design for entrepreneurs and startups that’ll help them in their iterations:
- Stanford Dschool bootcamp bootleg [A MUST]: http://dschool.stanford.edu/wp-content/uploads/2011/03/BootcampBootleg2010v2SLIM.pdf
- Stanford Dschool crash course:
- Ideo Human Centered Design toolkit:
- Book: “The Design of Everyday Things” by Donald A. Norman
Article written by Narendiran Sundararajan and Rishabh Narang.