Book Review: The Design of Things to Come: How Ordinary People Create Extraordinary Products

    By: PDMA Headquarters on Oct 02, 2013

    Book Review: The Design of Things to Come: How Ordinary People Create Extraordinary Products   

    By: Craig M. Vogel, Jonathan Cagan, and Peter Boatwright, Upper Saddle River, NJ : Wharton School Publishing , 2005 . 237+xxx pages . 
    Review by: M. Billur Akdeniz

    Book ReviewIn the future of global economic and societal change, “innovation is not everything; it is the only thing” (p. xxvi, italics in original). This book is about deconstructing the process of innovation into comprehensible parts that enable the reader to understand what innovation is, why it is important, and how a cost-centric approach can be transformed into a differentiation approach through an innovation-driven strategy. It is an informative and thoughtful experience for the reader, who is introduced to a step-by-step guide to the innovation process. This book is also about the main players in this process: consumers and innovators. The authors elaborate on pragmatic innovation, a term that perfectly captures the balance between creativity and profit. Throughout the book, they use the terms pragmatic innovation and innovationinterchangeably. In addition, the authors emphasize the importance of design, which stimulates change by compelling the production of things to come.

    Craig Vogel, Jonathan Cagan, and Peter Boatwright claim that this book targets people who are at the heart of the innovation process: those who purchase or use the product or service and those who develop the products and services in companies. Each chapter of the book starts with a scenario characterizing critical aspects of the lifestyle tendencies of the target market. It also contains real cases about innovators of impressive products.

    The book provides case studies for both consumer goods (e.g., cars, athletic shoes, an armband body monitor) and industrial products (e.g., sewer pipes and robots). However, since consumer products reveal more about lifestyle, desire, and fantasy, they are more suitable to be analyzed in a pragmatic innovation context compared to industrial products, which are thought to be all about price and functionality. One of the strengths of the book is the nicely drawn illustrations of the products discussed throughout the book. They are helpful in visualizing the content. The authors of this book come from all three fields: design, mechanical engineering, and marketing. They have lived through the topic.

    This book emphasizes the importance of understanding how innovation differs from invention and why innovation in business should be pragmatic. An invention like the production of the Model T in 1908 by Henry Ford represents a technological leap, where the focus is on the device. However, pragmatic innovation, which replaces invention as a day-to-day driving force, is a process of inspired management of various teams working on balancing new insights with practical realities and opportunities of the market. In a similar way, Gaynor (2002)describes innovation as a process requiring design and as a management discipline involving invention, implementation, and commercialization. By using a case study of Dee Kapur, who led the redesign of the F-150 truck at Ford to keep its undisputed leader status through constantly changing lifestyles, manufacturing technologies, and economic segments, the book enables reader to meet today's new generation of product innovators.

    The authors apply innovation as a result of disciplined activity and combine it with organic growth to establish a unified strategy for developing and marketing new products and services. This approach searches for needs, wants, and desires of the targeted consumers and satisfies them as the social, economic, and technological (SET) factors change to produce new opportunities in both local and global markets. The iPod of Apple Computer or the Mirra Chair of Herman Miller are good examples of product opportunities once hidden in SET trends and then discovered for profitable innovations. The authors articulate a sequence of procedures for the earlier stages of innovation that the new breed of innovators seems to follow. Similar to the philosophy of Herb Simon, Nobel Prize winner in economics, the process of product innovation is described as “satisficing” (p. 58), not an optimizing one. According to the authors, the “fuzzy front end” (p. 169) of product development consists of phases such as identifying, understanding, conceptualizing, and realizing product opportunities. The authors give more emphasis to this initial stage than usual.

    The heart of the book is chapters 5 and 6. Chapter 5 provides a “new product prescription” (p. 87) to the reader. The new route to profitability is to satisfy customers' deepest desires while designing for fantasy in the current “experience” (p. 91) economy, where consumers buy experiences. The average consumer is full of unconscious desires for a range of experiences, and connecting with those desires makes a product more attractive than another one. Form and function of a new product are at their best when they can fulfill the fantasy of the consumer and can generate a profit that is sustainable for the company. This can happen as companies and product developers understand the paradigm of the fantasy economy. In this case, fantasy, which takes place on a personal level, forms the final link of the chain from commodity to goods to service to experience. Consumer demand for experience, as in the case of the Harry Potter phenomenon and Starbucks coffee, is part of an evolution of the marketplace and of society. Author J. K. Rowling turned the children whose primary interest is digital entertainment back into the print world, whereas Starbucks took the commodity of coffee and transformed it into a high-value experience at high margins. In both cases, “innovation is found by identifying the extraordinary part of the ordinary” (p. 104).

    Chapter 6 introduces the “Powers of 10” (p. 105) analysis, which is a tool for innovative product developers to identify all stakeholders besides the consumer and account for all their needs, wants, and desires. I think this is the most creative part of the book. The authors take the name from the film, Powers of 10 (directed by Charles and Ray Eames, 1968), which gives a brief summary of the known universe from the smallest particle to the largest view by looking at what happens when you magnify or reduce the same view by a power of 10. Taking Lubrizol Company, which introduced a new product called Emulsified Heating Fuel for refineries based on the PuriNOx technology, the authors explain the impact of stakeholders by illustrating the power of product adoption from the smallest (micro) to the largest (macro) view.

    The part of the book that tells about pragmatic innovation and design for fantasy in business-to-business products seems like just an extension of the authors' approach for consumer goods. Although this part provides a different perspective of user experience on industrial products, it is not very successful in injecting the fantasy economy view in industrial products. Another topic the book discusses is the strategic decision of a company to hire external product development consultants or to use internal staff or both. Although most companies can meet the requirement of hard qualities such as manufacturing and technology, the main challenge is to possess soft quality features, which are “the emotion, aesthetic, brand identity, social, and interaction aspects of a product or service—those that integrate into and define lifestyle” (p. 215). The authors discuss IDEO, which is a well-known product consultancy in terms of supporting big firms such as Procter & Gamble, Hewlett-Packard, and Pepsi with the soft quality dimension of innovation.

    A strong feature of this book is its smart examples of today's best companies such as Ford, Whirlpool, IDEO, and New Balance and their innovative products and services that tap customers' ever strongest desires. In the end, it discusses six powers of innovation in the new economy of opportunity to encourage the reader to take the necessary action to produce something better than any person could. These six powers include new individuals, organizations, market segments, regional impact, global economy, and the new renaissance team of innovators.

    Although the book targets all of innovation, the emphasis is on consumers and other stakeholders. Moreover, the book describes innovation as a systematic process; it does not provide much room for uncontrollable factors such as serendipity or good luck, although they can account for some inexplicable portions. The top management of Pfizer Company acknowledges the possibility of unpredictable outcomes in their research for certain drugs. For example, the company invested considerable energy and resources in a drug for treating hypertension, but tests found that it had a better therapeutic effect for treating irregular heartbeat (Kanter, Kao, and Wiersema, 1997).

    In summary, this book is a resourceful and inspiring guide on pragmatic innovation, asserting that it is “an interdisciplinary collaboration, a structured process of exploration, a balance between art and science, a focus on experience and fantasy” (p. 231). It is insightful and helpful in describing what lies at the heart of innovation in terms of the people crafting a systematic process that becomes an invaluable tool for a company's sustained viability.

    Released: October 2, 2013, 11:23 am | Updated: November 20, 2013, 12:28 pm
    Keywords: PDMA Blog


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