A big thank you to Kivi and Professor Conny Bakker for a fantastic session prior to the Xmas break. Prof. Bakker presented a great introduction on the challenges of Designing for the Circular Economy. Being on Zoom meant I could join in from the other side of the world. It was such a treat to be with my old tribe of Delft University Industrial Design Engineers again. Listening to their questions and comments made me appreciate the advantages of being in New Zealand, on an island far away. And not just because it’s easier to dodge viruses.
We have a few huge advantages: we’re small, we’re far away, we care.
Being small is a huge advantage. Especially when it comes to innovating.
Being small means that we can see the effects of our actions and decisions easily, because the results land on on our own desk or the desk of our colleague who’s sitting right next to us. We get the feedback straight away.
Compare that with what happens in Europe.
Let me give you the background: Conny is a professor at the Faculty of Industrial Design Engineering of the Delft University of Technology, my old uni, where there’s been a focus on designing with less environmental impact for the past 25 years. That’s a huge lead in understanding and knowledge.
One of the examples Conny described was a project to improve repairability of vacuum cleaners. The European Union passed regulation which includes repairability of appliances in Oct 2019. Find the press release here.
The design student’s project involved analysing the repairability of four different vacuum cleaners. He mapped how easy / hard it is to repair parts of the appliances. One of the vacuums was a Phillips model. It didn’t come out favourable and the student came up with a few minor, easy to implement, tweaks to improve the design drastically. Yet, when he approached Phillips his comments fell on deaf ears initially.
The feedback included comments like ‘it would cost too much’, ‘maybe in 10 years’, ‘we can’t sell repairability’.
When discussing this in the Zoom call with fellow designers, product managers and engineers based in the Netherlands the comments from my Dutch colleagues made me realise our advantage in NZ. The design team at Phillips (and anyone in a large size corporation) doesn’t see the impacts of their design. Phillips warranty issues and customer complaints get handled by another organisation, which isn’t part of Phillips, it’s not even in the same part of the country. The designers don’t see the issues, don’t hear of them, don’t get any feedback, not even on cost. The cost of repairs under warranty is part of a general overhead. It doesn’t come back to the design team.
Which means the design team don’t see the effect of their decisions. They don’t get a chance to learn and improve. The feedback cycle for them is very long and slow or none existent.
Whereas in NZ, most of us work in small teams, any issues come in to our offices and they land on the desk of the guy/gal next to you. You can see the feedback of your designs. You can see how busy your colleague is with the pile of rework or complaints. And how much time it takes. And it’s annoying, because it means he/she can’t help you with the development of the next new product. There’s real incentive for you (and the rest of the team) to help reduce the pile of rework and complaints.
In a smaller organisation you can see the results of your actions easily.
Meaning you learn faster, can react faster, get it right quicker, improve quicker and take on bigger challenges (like designing for the circular economy) quicker.
Challenges like repairability are so much easier for us to solve, because we’re small. We can move quick. We can see the effects easily. We don’t have to jump through ten layers of management hoops to elevate an issue. Most of us can just contact the person at the top by walking over to their desk.
Which makes my counterparts in the Netherlands very jealous!
Let’s design for the better!
Onwards & upwards,
Saskia is a new product development expert. She helps organisations to unlock their potential to consistently deliver new products faster, better, more profitable and with more fun.
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