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Where to focus your design effort

This isn't strictly a software post, but I thought it might be interesting anyway.  You be the judge...

Some products (software or otherwise) are successful by excelling in one particular area, e.g. aesthetics or functionality.  Other products succeed by providing satisfactory performance in all areas.  From a strategy perspective, when should you focus your design efforts on excelling in one particular area and when should you try to divide your attention across all areas?

One way to come up with answers is to think about a well know product such as cars.  Most family cars attempt to be all things to all people.  What is the context of this particular design?  Cost is a big issues with family cars (initial cost and long-term ownership), reliability is also very important.  People would like good performance and style, but are very ready to balance these qualities against cost/reliability.  A family car also tends to be a long-term purchase, which a person will have to live with for some time.  Family cars also tend to fulfil a variety of roles.  Oh, they also tend to be pretty essential.

How about performance cars? In this case, it is understood that cost will be high.  Style and personality are key as is performance.  The car must excell in these areas.  These are areas of no compromise.  Pay a lot of money it's gotta be fast and its gotta make you feel good. about this for starters:
1) When to balance your design across all areas: Essential long-term purchase, which is cost sensitive.  A product that needs to be versatile.  A product that is performing well when you no longer notice it (i.e. it doesn't break down, it is easy to use day-to-day)

2) When to focus design on a few areas: Non-essential, higher price item.  May be a shorter-term purchase.  A product that sells itself on being excellent in one or more areas.  A product this is performing well when you notice it (stylish, good performance, prestige)

Any comments? Any ideas? This is just 'off the top of my head' and thefore not thought through particularly well!  I think the importance of context just isn't addressed often enough in all sorts of theory/strategy.  It is so much easier to say there is a best way without paying due attention to context.  And context is so powerful.  This is a point made in a much more eloquent fashion in the Innovator's Solution.


Saturday, July 17, 2004

Do you need to focus on all areas?

You seem to suggest all products need to be versatile. Surely your car example contradicts that?

Sure a family car is a versatile all rounder (jack of all trades but a master of none)

If I purchase a performance car, I'm probably prepared to make some concessions on things like mileage per gallon, space for kids at the back, and road safety - in other to get the other benefits of a performance car.

When you starting make the Porsche into all rounder, with more space for kids, better road safety, etc., before you know it's no longer a Porsche but a Volvo (adding one thing may sacrifice another).

S. Tanna
Saturday, July 17, 2004

I think you have the cart in front of the horse.

Identify a market, build a product to sell. If you try to build the product first and then look for a market you'll probably not be in business very long.

Tom H
Saturday, July 17, 2004

I think the family car example isn't quite correct. You are describing it as through all of the requirements are set at 50 percent, whereas the sports car example turns a couple of requirements up to 100, and the rest down towards 0. I don't think this is true. I think for any successful family car, the "Shall cater for families" requirement is still up to 100 percent. To achieve this it ends up having to be low cost, high reliability, good residual price, loads of interior space etc. When you look at the finished product it looks like a compromise between all these factors, whereas in reality the design has been totally focused on achieving what the buyers want, just like the sports car example.

Ian H.
Saturday, July 17, 2004

And that explains why SUVs get such marevelous gas mileage.

Dennis Atkins
Saturday, July 17, 2004

"When you starting make the Porsche into all rounder, with more space for kids, better road safety, etc., before you know it's no longer a Porsche but a Volvo"

No, you get a Porsche Cayenne Turbo.

MT Heart
Saturday, July 17, 2004

Tom H  nailed it!

OP - car makers are trying to take a commodity (cars) and differentiate them.

Software developers, for the most part, are creating something new (unless you're trying to reinvent MS Word or Excel).  So, from the start they're already differentiated.

So, what you maximize is really a function of what is MOST important to your customer. Or to thier BUYING decision. The two are often different.

So, take a page from Microsoft:  deliver the bare minimum needed by the customer in every area.  Think of it as getting a degree in school. The speed with which you get your degree isn't how many A's you get. It's how MANY CLASSES you can tick off with the minimum passing score.

(NOTE: I didn't follow this advice in school because my goal wasn't simply to graduate, but to learn. But in business, the PRIMARY goal is to make money. (Well, it's a necessity, anyway).)

Mr. Analogy
Saturday, July 17, 2004

Almost all things/brands I can think of which excel in one area are sold at a higher rate per item (Mercedes vs. Volkswagen, steak vs. burger, etc.). The fact is that whilst there is a market for the the market is smaller. It really is up to you whether you want to try and sell 100 widgets at $1 ea. or 10 super-widgets at $10 ea. To some extent it will depend on what can be sold, but to an extent it is also a personal view, and I would say that if you care more than average about (say) quality then you will probably be happier trying to sell 10 "better" super-widgets than 100 average widgets. JMO.

Monday, July 19, 2004

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