The two most important lessons I’ve learned about hardware design come from my experiences at Walt Disney Imagineering R&D and iRobot.
All of the Disney experiences center around a simple story. Everything in the product (e.g. a movie) is focused on telling this story to the guest. The same storytelling approach is now becoming true for consumer hardware products. To be successful, products must tell a simple story to the consumer. Their “voice” is expressed through design.
Hardware startups need to take the same approach. In telling the product story, they need to carve away the bulleted list of 20 features to find the core three features that tell a clean, simple and compelling story through the industrial design and user experience. When done well, the result is a product that speaks visually to consumers and makes them crave interaction with it.
The lesson from iRobot is that great industrial design is closely coupled with the product’s function. You can’t silo any parts of the development process. The Roomba is a great example of htat. The key to our success was that the design of Roomba was so tightly coupled with its function. For the Roomba to complete its cleaning mission, it was critical that it never became trapped. This requirement dictated a design based around a round robot with the wheels on the diameter. The clearance under a typical couch dictated the robot’s height. Using these functional requirements, the engineering and design teams were constantly iterating to create a functional product that looks good.