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Thursday, March 13, 2008

Adaptive Path discovers Apple's Mojo, but Toyota got there first

In a post called "Appleā€™s Design Process Through a Keyhole", the blog over at
Adaptive Path mentions one technique used at Apple when designing product. The basic idea is that in Apple, designers come up with 10 possible designs for a new feature (and I bet more than 10 for a new product). Then diligently choose the best 3 and then continue to iteratively improve all 3 options they chose for some set period of time. Once they have worked for a while in all 3 options they finally decide on 1 and perfect it.

Even though this seems to be "amazing" and "innovative" for the folk at Adaptive Path (and I bet they are not the only ones thinking that way), this is actually a very old technique called Set-Based Concurrent Engineering (SBCE, also in software).

This technique is similar to techniques used in brainstorming sessions where participants are encouraged to generate many ideas (broaden the horizon), improve on them incrementally by "using" other people's ideas and enhancing them (improve on other's ideas), and finally to select the most appropriate idea for implementation (narrow and select).

Set-Based Concurrent Engineering is also used to ensure quality when a team (or set of teams) must meet a hard-deadline (as in a deadline that cannot be changed) with a solution that is much better than if you would just go with your first impulse/idea and try to improve on that.

One of the key advantages for Apple in using this technique, is that when they get to the 3 mid-step ideas they actually have syntethized all of the best points of all the other 7 ideas into those select 3. And then they still improve on those!

Good to see that Adaptive Path picked up on this technique, I hope that many other UI/UX people start paying attention to this old, but proven technique!

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  • The generation of many ideas and whittling them down wasn't what was so unusual. It's the level of detail they go down to and the months of time they expend on it that is so unusual in our first-to-market, Agile world.

    By Blogger Unknown, at March 13, 2008 10:14 PM  

  • That's a good observation. Even though apple does spend time and effort in the concurrent ideas (first 10, then 3) they do seem to be consistently first to market in their niche market.
    That's, again, not so different from Toyota whose product development process is about half as long as their competitors. I'd suggest that it is because they spend time on the initial concurrent analysis of different solutions that they get consistent fast results that allow them to be first-to-market. This is certainly Toyota's example...

    By Blogger Unknown, at March 17, 2008 9:50 PM  

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