A great model for thinking about design: Michelin Stars

David Dat Nguyen
Aug 28, 2017 · 3 min read
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The ultimate compliment in the restaurant world: 3 Michelin Stars

There are millions of restaurants in the world. Michelin (yes, the car tire company) came up with the famous Michelin Guide back in 1900. It has a singular purpose: to help identify the best restaurants in the world by sending anonymous inspectors to these restaurants.

By 1936, the Michelin Guide established their star rating:

1-Star Restaurant
“A very good restaurant in its category”
“Une très bonne table dans sa catégorie”

2-Star Restaurants
“Excellent cooking, worth a detour”
“Table excellente, mérite un détour”

3-Star Restaurants
“Exceptional cuisine, worth a special journey”
“Une des meilleures tables, vaut le voyage”

Cooking is an art, but it is also an endless quest for perfection. In order to get more Michelin stars you have to simply reach perfection. What does that require? You have to be perfect every day, every meal, every dish, every prep, rinse and repeat, every single day of your life.

For some, that sounds awful. But for those that have that life-devouring passion for food — that special, strange discipline required in the kitchen — they have only one thing to say: “challenge accepted.”

Many have speculated what criteria these anonymous Michelin inspectors use to judge a restaurant and while there are many different criteria, the most obvious ones are: quality of the products, mastery of the flavor and cooking techniques, the “personality” of the Chef in his cuisine, value for money, consistency between visits.

So why is this a good proxy for thinking about design?

The craft of design mirrors the craft of cooking quite well. It is an endless quest for perfection that requires a daily discipline of design fundamentals, refining your technique, listening to your users, iterating over multiple options, and endless amounts of learning. There will be ups and downs, things that break your way and things that don’t. But isn’t that great? It makes life worth living!

A proposed star rating for design:

1-Star Product
“A very good product in its category, worth your time and money”

2-Star Product
“Excellent product, this will change your life”

3-Star Product
“Exceptional product, feels like magic”

Mirroring the criteria above for Michelin inspectors, here are a few things to keep in mind when “judging a design:” quality of the experience for three user groups (brand new users, existing users, users returning after a long hiatus), mastery of the underlying technology and design techniques, the “personality” of the team shows up in the product and makes it more human, value for money, consistency between experiences.

In this day of short attention spans, a multitude of apps in the phone in your pocket, and witnessing so many “runaway successes,” it isn’t hard to feel overwhelmed.

Oftentimes as designers, we ask ourselves: How do you rediscover magic? How do you make something worthy of 3 stars?

There isn’t a clear answer. Start with day one. And dedicate each and every subsequent day striving to reach perfection.

Note: If you don’t have a Michelin Star, it doesn’t mean that your restaurant sucks. It just means that you have something amazing to strive towards. Same thing with design. Don’t design for the rewards; you will be rewarded by creating exceptional products.

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