The Perfect Enemy

Enemies of good design are everywhere. Perhaps the greatest is perfect design.

In the poem La Bégueule, Voltaire admonishes us that “the best is the enemy of the good”. It turns out, the very skills that benefit a designer (seeing ways to improve the things around us) may also be our greatest foe (wanting to make them perfect). While we seek perfection, which is always just out of reach, we miss the “good” within our grasp.

The product design process is no different. It doesn’t make sense to invest tons of money into development, tooling, staffing, real estate, equipment or other expenses before confirming the viability of an idea. This is why I favor the Minimum Viable Product (MVP) approach whenever possible to reduce risk and maximize learning. This technique was popularized by Eric Ries, author of The Lean Startup.

The principle goal of the MVP approach is to launch an early version of your product with only the minimum requirements (features, styles, accessories, etc.) necessary to prove viability in the market. This allows you to test your concept with early adopters, confirm whether a market exists and obtain learnings on what to improve for the next round. The key ingredient being that you are able to find willing people to pay for it. It does no good to share your product with a bunch of friends and ask if they like it. No, you have to actually sell it.

When we developed the first Vapur bottle we consciously decided to use available tooling and parts wherever possible to save time and money. We were taking a big risk on a novel form factor and wanted to go-to-market as quickly as possible to prove out the concept. We selected an existing material structure that met our needs, used cap components that were readily available and an off-the-shelf carabiner in lieu of tooling our own.

We knew our early version was less than we wanted, but we also knew that our target audience would forgive the minor design compromises. And despite these so-called “flaws”, we sold 10,000 bottles through our website in just 3 months. The following year we sold 1 million bottles. Since then we have improved our basic design and added higher-end products to our line. But the cash flow generated from our MVP enabled us to completely fund start-up operations. We proved our concept.

No matter how convinced you are that your concept will work or how much money you have to burn, if you can build a rudimentary version of your product for half the cost, do it! Then ship and let the market guide your next move.

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