Product development has parallels with parenting, at least to a certain extent. Designers somehow experience the same stages as parents. It is creation after all. And it is not for no reason that the word baby is misused so often, referring to a project instead of an infantile human being. Being a facilitator of both the creative process and the parental one, I understand where this comes from. But is it a valid comparison?
Certainly not when you look at the physical challenges. Giving birth to a project has nothing to do with the physical misery a mother-to-be has to cope with. Sleepless nights? For designers this can just as well be considered as bad planning… Nevertheless, seeing a project – or product – come to life and witnessing its first steps, will wake up emotions shared by young parents. And even designers enter the phase where they have to let go their creation to let it live a life of its own. But not before it is perfect. And perfect it will be, because designers have prototyping. Now here’s something you’d wish for when you have kids.
Oh yes, a prototype. The stage where you take it from the sketchbook to the workshop, it is the moment when the parenting begins. In this phase that means extensive testing of your prototype. When you have a child, you feel like you are the one being tested. The nice thing of prototypes is that you can show it to your potential buyer. See if they like it, if they can use it and if they understand it. If not, no problem; you simply change its character at bit. Try that with your child!
Last week I was present at the maiden voyage of the first prototype of a new motorcycle design my firm is responsible for. It was the first moment our concept was made tangible. And could even be driven. Our design team was there, a bunch of critical motorcycle experts and of course the client. It was exciting. Our creation had to show what it’s worth, although it had just come alive. Before the testing began, I heard myself explain that this was just the first prototype of possibly many, making sure expectations were well managed. And then the first expert started the engine and drove off. All the rides went very smooth, and the funny thing is that I really felt proud. I felt proud of the efforts of our team, but especially of the prototype.
Of course now we have to change details to make it even better. And of course it will get better. I’m sure the next prototype will be an even smoother ride and the one after that one will have fewer components so it can be produced in a more efficient way. And then I thought of parenting, designing and the role a prototype has. The designer makes his baby perfect for a large crowd of different people, while the parent doesn’t need to do that. There will be moments when your kid doesn’t function in a way you’d wish for. And that you have to manage expectations, maybe even say sorry for your kid’s behaviour. But damn, you’ll always feel proud.