The First Secret of Great Design: Tony Fadell (Full Transcript)

Every thermostat had started adding that feature. But it turned out that no one saved any energy.

Now, why is that? Well, people couldn’t predict the future. They just didn’t know how their weeks would change season to season, year to year. So no one was saving energy, and what happened? Thermostat designers went back to the drawing board and they focused on that programming step.

They made better UIs, they made better documentation. But still, years later, people were not saving any energy because they just couldn’t predict the future.

So what did we do? We put a machine-learning algorithm in instead of the programming that would simply watch when you turned it up and down, when you liked a certain temperature when you got up, or when you went away.

And you know what? It worked. People are saving energy without any programming. So, it doesn’t matter what you’re doing. If you take a step back and look at all the boxes, maybe there’s a way to remove one or combine them so that you can make that process much simpler. So that’s my first tip: look broader.

For my second tip, it’s to look closer.

One of my greatest teachers was my grandfather. He taught me all about the world. He taught me how things were built and how they were repaired, the tools and techniques necessary to make a successful project.

I remember one story he told me about screws, and about how you need to have the right screw for the right job.

There are many different screws: wood screws, metal screws, anchors, concrete screws, the list went on and on. Our job is to make products that are easy to install for all of our customs themselves without professionals.

So what did we do? I remembered that story that my grandfather told me, and so we thought, “How many different screws can we put in the box? Was it going to be two, three, four, five? Because there’s so many different wall types.”

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So we thought about it, we optimized it, and we came up with three different screws to put in the box. We thought that was going to solve the problem.

But it turned out, it didn’t. So we shipped the product, and people weren’t having a great experience. So what did we do? We went back to the drawing board just instantly after we figured out we didn’t get it right. And we designed a special screw, a custom screw, much to the chagrin of our investors. They were like, “Why are you spending so much time on a little screw? Get out there and sell more!” And we said, “We will sell more if we get this right.”

And it turned out, we did. With that custom little screw, there was just one screw in the box, that was easy to mount and put on the wall. So if we focus on those tiny details, the ones we may not see and we look at them as we say, “Are those important or is that the way we’ve always done it? Maybe there’s a way to get rid of those.”

So my last piece of advice is to think younger.

Every day, I’m confronted with interesting questions from my three young kids. They come up with questions like, “Why can’t cars fly around traffic?” Or, “Why don’t my shoelaces have Velcro instead?”

Sometimes, those questions are smart. My son came to me the other day and I asked him, “Go run out to the mailbox and check it.” He looked at me, puzzled, and said, “Why doesn’t the mailbox just check itself and tell us when it has mail?”

I was like, “That’s a pretty good question.” So, they can ask tons of questions and sometimes we find out we just don’t have the right answers. We say, “Son, that’s just the way the world works.”

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So the more we’re exposed to something, the more we get used to it. But kids haven’t been around long enough to get used to those things.

And so when they run into problems, they immediately try to solve them, and sometimes they find a better way, and that way really is better.

So my advice that we take to heart is to have young people on your team, or people with young minds. Because if you have those young minds, they cause everyone in the room to think younger.

Picasso once said, “Every child is an artist. The problem is when he or she grows up, is how to remain an artist.”

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