Art — November 9, 2018
Every Friday, Tuffy fields a question that benefits from his worldly wisdom as #TheMostInterestingRhinoInTheWorld.
This week’s question is: “Hey Tuffy, I’m a mechanical engineer, like you, and I’d like to make my own automotive products. What are the things I should do in order to design great products?”
Tuffy’s answer: “My friend, we are kin, and I’m honored to share my thoughts about designing great products with you. First, I want to begin by defining what great design is. Most people, when asked about what great design is, respond with a reference to the aesthetics of a product. They talk about how good, or how sexy it looks. Great design is far more than that. Let’s begin this exploration with a quote that’s commonly attributed to Henry Ford, “If I’d asked people what they wanted, they would have asked for faster horses.” Simply put, if you want to create something that’s game-changing, you’ll have to be a visionary and dream up a completely new solution to an existing problem, or develop something that vastly improves people’s lives without them realizing that they their lives could be improved by its existence. In this case, the problem was helping people to get from point A to point B reliably and economically, and the new solution that drastically improved people’s lives was the mass production of automobiles, which made them accessible to a lot of people. Examples of other products that fit the description are the airplane (again, going from point A to point B), the printing press (helping spread knowledge more broadly), and of course, the wheel (how else would spinners on large wheels come to be?). Can you imagine cruising down the road in a Corvette C7 that had square wheels? Yeah, I**can**t***im**ag**ine*ei**ther. Next, great design must take into account the people who’ll be using it and how they use it. I recall many years ago when Apple first released the Macbook Air laptops, and PC companies made fun of them because it was “underfeatured”. What those companies were overlooking was that the target market for Macbook Airs didn’t need super high powered processors, huge amounts of storage or lots of USB ports – they were mostly surfing the web, listening to music and typing papers in coffee shops and college campuses, and portability was way more important to them than anything else. This example hammers home two points. The first is that understanding how your customers will use the product is crucial. That’s the reason why Armstrong makes multiple models of tires, and will announce new models next year – every group of people has its unique needs and requirements. There is no one-size-fits-all approach, though ball cap companies have tried to convince us otherwise for years. The other is that it’s easy to confuse features with benefits, and just shoving features into a product doesn’t mean that it will provide the owner with the benefits they were looking for. I feel that way about the idea of an amphibious car that also flies – it sounds good in theory, but when it comes down to what most people expect from a vehicle, reliability, performance, gas mileage, safety or some combination thereof, the all-in-one will fail miserably.
If you’re designing products that people will handle, ergonomics will factor heavily into the equation. Products that are comfortable to use and don’t cause fatigue with extended handling will always be appreciated. One of my favorite product companies, OXO, got its start because its founder, Sam Farber, who was the retired CEO of a cookware company, noticed how his wife, Betsey, struggled with the apple peeler that she was using. Sam did some research, which revealed that most utensils had poor functional design. Sensing an opportunity, he founded OXO International with Betsey to design better utensils and they conducted extensive research among people who used utensils, including healthy consumers, professional chefs, people with arthritis and people whose grips were weakened because of age. They also discovered that most products in the marketplace suffered from the use of poor quality materials. Using this research, they developed their products, which had great ergonomics and quality materials. OXO’s Good Grips product line was unveiled at the Gourmet Products Show in San Francisco in 1991, and instantly became a hit.
The last major thing that we should pay attention to when designing great products is aesthetics. While great aesthetics isn’t synonymous with great design, it’s a vital part of the latter, and no product will ever be deemed great unless it performs its function incredibly well while also being beautiful to behold.
I know that I’ve shared a lot, and if I were to summarize everything I’ve shared with you, it would be – “At the heart of great design is this – the requirement that it makes life a little better for whoever is using it, through its usefulness to its owner and through the beauty that the owner experiences when using it.” I hope you find this helpful, my friend, and wish you all the best!”
TUFFY the Rhino is more than just the Armstrong Tire mascot. On the surface, TUFFY appears to be a tough, hardened character, and arguably there is “none tougher.” In fact, he’s really a softie at heart, charming folks wherever he goes – a gentleman, for sure, but one who would equally be at home blazing frontiers as he would be dancing the waltz at a grand soirée. Often referred to as “The most interesting rhino in the world,” TUFFY has traveled the world and made many appearances representing Armstrong Tire, from advertisements co-starring stars like Lucille Ball to being featured on many eBay listings. However, he remains a simple, Midwestern rhino at heart, one that’s rooted in empathy, humility, and family values.