What Steve Jobs Taught Google’s Tony Fadell About Designing Simple Products

Greg Ferenstein
Mar 19, 2015 · 2 min read
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Image for post
Flickr user TED Conference

At the TED conference in Vancouver this year, one of the main designers of the iPod and founder of Nest, Tony Fadell, gave a few simple tips about creating awesome products. While most of us won’t be working on the next world-wide gadget phenomenon, his tips, especially those from the late great Steve Jobs, seemed delightfully practical for all sorts of projects.

Since his time at Apple, Fadell has gone on to create the Nest thermostat and is now a lead designer at Google.

1). “Staying Beginner”

Jobs insisted that his design team “stay beginner”: walk in the shoes of someone who has never experienced a product before. When a new Apple product came out, Fadell would wait in long lines at an Apple store, purchase it at the counter like everyone else, unbox it and try to get it working.

Though he may have been involved in every aspect of the iPod, taking the trek of the consumer taught him to notice the little frustrations that can destroy an otherwise good idea.

As an example, he talked about shipping a product with a charged battery. Only a few years ago, it was all-to-common to unwrap a new MP3 player with the glee of christmas morning, only to find out we had to wait a few hours to charge the device.

This is a piss-poor first impression for a product. Now, Apple products, he says, come with at least a partially charged battery. The act of “staying beginner” helps us see the frustrations that we otherwise resign ourselves to believing are fate.

“The more we’re exposed to something,” Fadell said, “the more we get used to it”.

Breaking out of the mold by walking in a consumer’s shoes gives a new perspective.

2). Put Young People on the team

“If you have those young minds, they cause everyone to think young,” Fadell said. Young workers’ naïveté, he argues, is an asset. They don’t accept all the assumptions that we’ve become habituated to making. Even if their suggestions are completely unrealistic, they force all of the older folks on the team to question unexpected assumptions.

The data seems to support this idea that young people can be extraordinary for innovation. This year, there were a record 46 billionaires under the age of 40 on Forbes famous list of the rich and famous, mostly from technology. Snapchat’s Evan Spiegel, for instance, is a billionaire at just 24 years old.

Technology and the app economy has given young minds the ability to create products without permission — and, as a result, many have thrived.

Staying beginner and staying young: two simple, practical ideas.

The Ferenstein Wire

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