Design is in the details for both new, and evolving, products

One question I am often asked by customers as well as other industry professionals is, “How do you decide what product to develop next?” As with many things, the answer to this question is both very simple… and somewhat complicated.

The question reminds me of a video I saw on the popular TEDtalks website. This particular talk was by a gentleman named Paul Bennett, and is entitled “Design is in the details.” At one point in his discussion, Mr. Bennett suggests that the design process is merely an attempt to “reframe the ordinary.” Applying this simple concept within the complexity of a fiber optic system that carries many gigabytes of information is what we, as product designers, attempt to do.

All Systems Broadband is fortunate to work with many of the largest service providers in North America. Despite their size, these Fortune 100 firms typically seek simple product solutions that will readily fit into existing network infrastructure and provide future-proof features and performance for tomorrow’s network.

As a supplier focused on delivery of such products, we spend a great deal of time understanding not only the hardware these customers have already deployed but, more importantly, how newly designed network components will be used when placed in service alongside of them. It is equally important to try to gain an understanding of what impact the product may have on other parts of the network, and to try and leverage these touch points to bring still greater value to the service provider. In his video, Bennett refers to these as “The blinding glimpse of the bleeding obvious.” It is through such analysis that we identify where true opportunities exist to improve our customer’s network and operations.

Not long ago, I wrote a piece that discussed product modularity, using toy Legos as the basis for the discussion. In it, we examined how devices that are designed to be modular can help solve a wider spectrum of problems than those that are directed at one specific purpose. This approach enhances the ability to use sound sustaining engineering techniques to help products to adapt to the changing needs of service providers and their customers.

Sometimes however, even with the most well thought-out product plan, we may find that a device is being used in a way that is different than originally intended. This is why sound engineering dictates that we continue to observe a product after it has been deployed. In this way, we come to better understand how the varying practices of many different service providers impact the acceptability of a product for a stated use. One of my favorite analogies in this regard is the story of the developer of a new college campus. Rather than planning out pathways and routes between the various buildings and facilities, the planner simply provided sidewalks from each building to the nearest street or parking lot. Recognizing that college students are quickly going to establish their own route between two points, the developer waited for months until the worn grass provided a blueprint for where to pour concrete pathways that made permanent these “user-selected” routes.

Our goal in product design is to build products that meet the user’s stated need. But, we don’t stop there. Once deployed we continue to seek “blinding glimpses of the bleeding obvious.”  This is what makes our job of product design both simple… and somewhat complicated.

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