Physical product designers exercise their skill as a folk art. My roommates, both product designers, made the dining table and the pantry in our house.
A while ago, I heard a talk by Sachit Jain, the Executive Director of the Vardhman group. One of his tenets for innovation at his company was what he called ‘Apna Kaam Aasaan’, that is, make your own work easier.
Something that I have to remind myself of a lot is to not turn everything into a magnum opus which I have a high tendency to do. The fact that I exercise design thinking in my work, inspite of the directive to share unfinished work, we create in a very consumer focused way: we design around a user. By its very nature this means we are designing for an external entity and requires that the final design be ‘finished’. But when you are doing it for yourself, especially with the intent to make your life easier, we cut ourselves a lot more slack. Consider eating a frozen meal and going to a restaurant. I’d be pretty pissed if I got served the GITS rajma at a restaurant, and yet when I can whip that up at home in 10 minutes, it tastes downright delicious. The keyword here is ‘easy’.
In his talk, Sachit also shared stories of how many of these things started off as jugaadu hacks, then went on to win innovation awards at regional events, bolstering the confidence of all those people who created them.
Somehow digital products disallow that kind of solutions, or perhaps they do, but I’ve always built up a thing in my head to be a consumer product and at that very moment the task becomes daunting. Instead now I am focusing on building some things to make my own life easy. It is the difference between the professional woodworker who creates a picnic bench for the backyard to one who does that for a living. My interaction design skills may get me professional gigs, but my coding skills are a hobbyist skills at best. So the moment I weigh myself with the daunting task of designing and building a consumer product, I in effect stop myself from building it. Making tools for yourself is incredibly empowering.
A related idea is rebuilding the things you’ve already built to learn new skills. Swaroop CH, a man who knows how to generate output, wrote this in one of his post about learning Clojure – “To make my learning solid, I rewrote isbn.net.in for the third time in Clojure.” The third time!! One of my project partners in a past class had the same strategy, he was going to write the code for a class project in Python and then rewrite it in Node.js. When you are making something for yourself, you are only trying to learn, so why wouldn’t you write something a third or fourth time.
So make stuff for yourself, make your work easy. And who know what may become of your creations?
I also wanted to set out one design principle for this strategy: to make it immediately useful. As soon as you make it you should be able to use it.