Focus. What does it mean? I like to find the origins of words because it really helps in gaining a deeper understanding of the meaning.
Focus is a point of convergence. Like the Extra Terrestrial Highway in Nevada almost goes to a point in the distance. In Latin it literally means “Hearth, Fireplace“. Which possibly stems from focusing the sun in a lens to a point hot enough to create a flame. So how does this definition of focus apply to the design process? A focus is knowing your end goal and aligning all aspects of the process to get you there.
Product design is a process. I love product design. I love to see and buy products that have good design. I absolutely hate a poor design, especially when it would not have been that hard to make it great. This is even harder to understand when you look at examples like the Ford Pinto Case. The executives making decisions in this example actually valued human life as an expense that they could afford when compared to fixing a simple design flaw. I know this is kind of the extreme, but to see a finished product that went through all the stages of the ideas and concepts, to engineering and development, through prototyping and manufacturing, to marketing and distribution, and to still have a poor design… that, my friends is infuriating to me. How many eyes and hands did that poor design pass through? How many people could have spoken up and put in their two cents and made a change? How does this happen?
I think the answer lies in the process. It is complex. It is time oriented. It deals with people from many walks of life. Sometimes those people lose their focus, or maybe they are focusing on the wrong end.
Taking a road-trip is like this process. One time I went on a road-trip through Rachel, Nevada. I felt the trip was long and rather boring. I missed a lot of the tourist traps and other unique locations that can make for a better, more memorable experience. I do not even remember why it took so long or where our final destination was. Just like you may miss a great unique experience that you really needed to see (the A-Le-Inn in Rachel, NV is a great example), it is really in where your focus lies. Bringing a product to market is very similar. As it comes down to crunch time people tend to start accepting more and more of what they otherwise would change – they start to focus on just the end rather than the process.
This is where our focus should be – in the process. Just like when you are on a road-trip, the fun happens when you focus on all the parts of the trip along the way rather than just getting somewhere as quickly as possible. A friend and mentor of mine, Nelson Boren, once told me to “Focus on everything”. I was not sure what he meant by this because in my mind it was the opposite of what focus means. If you focus on everything in reality you are not focused on anything. It was not till many years later that I finally understood what he meant. I finally realized that it is possible to focus on everything with the proper team in place with a proper leader that defines the vision. Each member of that team can focus on doing their job in line with the overall vision. All these jobs and tasks can then be focused towards the vision.
In product design, there is always a better design. Even if you think you have arrived, a product can always be improved.
A cousin of mine is a horse fanatic. She loves everything about horses. She has studied them, ridden them, has action figures, pictures, blankets, clothing, you name it. She told me that when you are riding a horse (especially a trained horse), they will move in the direction you look. The horse can sense the slightest movements and therefore it is important to look where you want the horse to go – not just pull the reigns in that direction. You need a definite focus.
Back when I was in high school taking a Drivers Ed class, we practiced on what looked like glorified washing machines. There was an overhead screen that displayed a rather boring simulator movie from a laser disk. You turned your steering wheel when the car on screen started to turn or a red light would come on. My drivers ed Teacher was also the German teacher, Herr Corry was his name. His commentary was the best aspect of the class and is what I remember most. He told us that “…when passing cars on the freeway and especially semi trucks, DO NOT LOOK AT THEM!” “Oh wow, look at the size of those tires!?” “When driving always keep your focus on the road ahead of you.” It is simple to get distracted when passing. He went on to explain that when you look at a semi truck when passing, devastating history has taught us that you move towards it.
You move towards it. Whatever you focus on you move towards. Easy. Or is it? How does one determine the focus for a product? Or a company? Or a project?
It is simple: Focus on Quality.
This is the answer to how to focus on everything. By focusing on quality – it is no longer about the product or the design or the company. IT is about quality. Quality in every step of the process. Quality in concept, quality in engineering, quality in manufacturing, quality in marketing, it all leads to a quality end product design to be proud of. When you focus on quality the road-trip, though long, will be enjoyable. You will not want it to end. You will find ways to always improve your process and product which will equal greater success and more opportunity.
Everything will align and fall into place if you make quality your overall goal and focus.