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To Design Great Products Start With A Problem

June 9, 2013

In 1974, British industrial designer James Dyson was using his Hoover Junior vacuum cleaner and became incredibly frustrated by how weak the suction was, and how quickly it clogged up. From that moment on, he became convinced he could build a more efficient vacuum cleaner. It took many years and over 5,000 prototypes, but in 1993 he created the Dyson DC01. Within 18 months it became the biggest selling vacuum cleaner in the U.K.

Fast forward to last month at the International Automobile Show in New York City. According to the Wall Street Journal, while many automobile manufacturers were showing off their models’ latest tech bells and whistles, it was a centralized vacuum cleaner in the Honda Odyssey mini-van that “stole the show.” The idea originated from an engineer at Honda who went on a road trip with his family and was frustrated by all the crumbs and trash that accumulated in his own minivan. His engineering team at Honda realized that a centralized vacuum system “would have a lot of value to their customers.”

While vacuum cleaners might not be the flashiest of products, they don’t need to be. Dyson and Honda succeeded because clearly they solved problems for their customers.  A flashier example may be Amazon Web Services.

Most people think of Amazon’s customers as the millions of consumers who buy books and other retail products online.  But Amazon also serves more than 100,000 retailers who use Amazon’s eCommerce platform for their online stores – from specialty retailers to Target.  In 2003, Amazon realized that its retail customers had a problem: they would never realize the costs savings of cloud computing because they lacked the technical sophistication.  An entrepreneurial employee proposed to Jeff Bezos that Amazon create a service business to provide their retail customers an easy way to access computing power and storage on demand.  Amazon got a head start in this emerging market and its Amazon Web Services business went on to become the market leader in cloud computing – bigger than the cloud computing businesses of Google, IBM, HP, and Rackspace.  And all because they started with a customer problem

If you want to design a great product, find a good customer problem to solve.


Follow Dave on Twitter: @WDavidPower


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