Working Backwards

A few weeks ago I asked a room full of designers to re-think, or “re-design” the way they work. For some of them the assignment seemed to be an odd request. I got several “What do you mean?” looks. I got a sense from even more that they never thought about it before. Design is a process that starts here and ends there, and that’s just the way it is. But “the way we work” is, in itself, a design. It’s just that some of us are so close to it that we think there’s an underlying, unwritten rule stating “this IS how we design.” To disrupt that long-standing tradition would be a form of anarchy. Changing it will ruin something. Not sure what – but it will ruin it. 

Dan Formosa

A few days later, completely unrelated, someone sent me a link to a YouTube video. It shows Steve Jobs giving a talk at a conference – in 1997! The video, now 17 years old, goes on for over an hour, but I was riveted. It’s full of nice (and now historic) tidbits. I especially thought this quote from Jobs was relevant (you’ll find the quote just after the 52:00 minute mark):

“One of the things I’ve always found is that you’ve got to start with the customer experience and work backwards to the technology. You can’t start with the technology and try to figure out where you’re going to try to sell it. And I’ve made this mistake probably more than anybody else in this room. And I got the scar tissue to prove it.”

In 2014, this concept is obvious to many of us. And between then and now, there must be hundreds or thousands of similar quotes by some extremely insightful and successful people. “Start with the customer experience” is an idea practiced by many highly respected companies and discussed heavily in books on business and innovation. Yet from what I see, it’s a thought that in many circles still seems difficult to instill. Companies have a sort of mindset, which is an intangible force that’s not easy to change. And while on a one-to-one basis people will readily agree with the thought, en masse it can be surprisingly difficult to achieve – even with otherwise creative and open-minded design groups.

The point is that maybe, in designing world-class packaging, we should every once in a while also think about redesigning the “way” we design packaging. Because one of the most basic detriments to innovation may be that we don’t have enough anarchists.

Focused on medical packaging design and technology?

Dan Formosa, Ph.D.

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