How Is a Bad Product Developed?

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There are multiple answers for how a bad product is developed; many of them are rooted in myopia in the development process.

This morning, when I was leaving a subway station through a tunnel, a billboard caught my eye. Actually, at first glance, I was kind of scared by the weird eye of one of the women in the picture. A second look revealed that the weird eye was a bolt (on top of a washer) located very close to her right eye. Let me clarify that the bolt and the washer were physical items, not printed in the picture. The washer was slightly bigger than her eyeball, so when looking at the woman, I could see a beautiful left eye and a bolt and washer on the counterpart. Actually, there were a few bolts holding the transparent plastic cover over the picture. This very one just happened to be in the "perfect" position.

On the way to the office, my thinking continued. Had the graphical designer realized the existence of the bolts during the design phase, he/she would have avoided putting the woman in the wrong spot. Moving the woman just a few inches would have resolved this problem. That being said, this "bolt-in-the-eye" problem arose because of the disconnection between the graphical design phase and the installation phase. In other words, the graphical designer finished his/her work without knowing the situation in the downstream work and threw it over the wall, and the installation staff was just in charge of putting the printed art work in place with no responsibility for the quality of the final product.

Actually, this is quite a complicated situation. The advertiser, the design agency, and the operator of the billboard are probably three different entities. Collaboration across organizational boundaries is sometimes very difficult, especially for details such as the position of the bolts. However, as people say, "attention to detail makes all the difference." To be able to pay more attention to detail, good collaboration during the development process is required, which is why a lifecycle view of the product is a must.

You could say that this is just a rare and special case, and collaboration might therefore not be worthwhile. However, after checking out the other two billboards of the same advertisement in the same subway tunnel, I have to say it is worth some collaborative effort, since the other two have the same problem as well.

This billboard case demonstrates the neglect of the installation phase during the design phase, or the disconnect between two phases in the lifecycle of a product. Disconnect may also happen between other product lifecycle phases as well. The following two examples are what I’ve found in our daily life.

Example 1: single-use plastic shopping bags

The single-use plastic shopping bag was a "great" invention. It is so economical and convenient that it may even be partially responsible for the rotten food in your refrigerator, because single-use plastic bags allow you to buy much more food than you would normally eat. However, when this product was first developed, I guess people were not thinking about the disposal issue at the end of the lifecycle of this product. To me, it is a sin if you create something without providing a proper way to dispose of what you create.

Example 2: cable ties used in consumer goods packaging

Cable ties are quite handy on many occasions. However, have you ever experienced cable ties that were difficult to deal with when you were trying to unpack a set of self-assembly furniture? In this case, the connection between packaging design and the first use of the cable tie (packing the goods in the factory) is there, since cable ties are an efficient and low-cost way to package goods. However, the connection between packaging design and the second use of the cable tie (unpacking the goods at a consumer’s home) is broken. Cable ties are "innocent," but using them in packing consumer goods risks being a "design sin."

Above are good examples of what will happen if you don’t have a lifecycle perspective in product development. Recent years have seen increasing adoption of product lifecycle management (PLM) systems. The beauty of the PLM approach is the holistic view of the entire product lifecycle. Even if it is not a good time for an organization to implement a PLM system, at least it can be PLM-minded.
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