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Tony Fadell: The First Secret of Design

Written by: Jerom

You're probably reading this from an ergonomic office chair with armrests, designed with breathable fabric that rests upon a rotating base with wheels. It occured to someone that it would be that way, otherwise we would still be sitting on tree stumps and rocks.

Design has a lot to do with a critical attitude, the way we position ourselves against elements, our surroundings, and the kind of relationship we establish with them.

For Tony Fadell, he designer at Apple, change means opportunity. Could things be better? This was the trigger question of his TEDx talk, "The first secret of design is...noticing". The title invites you to reflect on how we communicate with elements. For Fadell functional and emotional design is achieved with 3 ways or outlooks to concentrate the problem.


It is difficult to resolve a problem that almost nobody sees

As a product designer, Tony Fadell explains that his job is to see those everyday things, to understand them and to try to improve them.

"Why does this happen? Why do we get used to everyday things? As humans we have the unlimited cerebral capacity. This is why the brain codifies everyday things into habits so that we can create space and understand new things. It is a process called habituation and it is one of the most basic ways we learn."

This experience isn't necessarily negative. It helps us to stop noticing insignificant details, which constantly interfere with other activities.

It turns into an inconvenience if we become unable to perceive the problem. To detect and fix, this is the mission of every designer, innovator and entrepreneur.

3 tips to resolve problems: functional and emotional design

Fadell combats habituation to everyday problems with 3 outlooks:

1 Look broader: put the conflict into perspective. Retrace the necessary steps to observe more widely in order to change the processes, combine them to make them simper, or eliminate them altogether for a better result.

2 Look closer: understand how things work and apply experience. The designer's job consists in making things easy to install for all clients, not only professionals. Focus on those tiny details that are not obvious at first glance, but that improve the user's experience.

3 Look young: utilise innocent thinking, the view of a child that questions everything to obtain intelligent questions. It's not about the age of those on your team, but rather their attitude.

Picasso once said: "Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up."


It's always been this way

Corporate culture makes us habituate to a "natural" state of reality. You go into a business, ask how they carry out a process, and they explain how. If you question something about their process they will tell you it's always been that way and that's the end of it.

Remember the false experiement about 5 monkeys? Although there is no proof of their existence, the metaphor is valid for this article:

This is from Microsiervos:

A group of scientists placed five monkeys in a cage, and in the middle, a ladder with bananas on top.
Every time a monkey went up the ladder, the scientists soaked the rest of the monkeys with cold water.

After a while, every time a monkey would start up the ladder, the others would pull it down and beat it up.

After some time, no monkey would dare try climbing the ladder, no matter how great the temptation.

The scientists then decided to replace one of the monkeys.

The first thing this new monkey did was to climb the ladder. Immediately, the other monkeys pulled him down and beat him up.

After several beatings, the new monkey learned never to go up the ladder, even though there was no obvious reason not to, apart from the beatings.

The second monkey was substituted and the same thing happened.

The first monkey participated in the beating of the second monkey.

A third monkey was changed and the same was repeated.

The fourth monkey was changed, resulting in the same, before the fifth was finally replaced as well.

What was left was a group of five monkeys that – without ever having received a cold shower – continued to beat up any monkey who attempted to climb the ladder.

If it were possible to ask the monkeys why they beat up all those who attempted to climb the ladder, their most likely answer would be “I don’t know. It’s just how things are done around here.”

When confronted with a new device, electronic, for example, we ask questions, such as why is this button here or this how it is? After some time we normalise the situation and stop asking questions. We have incorporated this reality regardless of whether it generates discomfort or can be improved. We normalise it.

The innocent user

The Antropólogo Inocente is a classic book about social sciences written as a novel about the investigation and experience of a university professor and his fieldwork. The scholar decides to live for one year with an African tribe and study their customs and ways of life. He knows that after some time all those details that called his attention will soon disappear and he'll grow accustomed to them. He decides to document all the things that grab his attention through detailed records of the practices and situations, because he knows that later they will become the norm for him.

These are valid techniques for anyone from an anthropologist in exotic lands, a tourist or a designer with a youthful attitude.

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