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The key to making better products is breaking them.

I have the ability to break things- it is a super power.

A friend once told me I should apply to become a product tester because I seemed to break everything really easily. I have to admit while I am not quite as destructive as I used to be I can be a little on the heavy handed side.

However I have to admit some of the things l have enjoyed the most have lasted the shortest amount of time. For example I once bought a radio controlled helicopter. I charged it and flew it in the safety of my back garden without incident, great fun.

The second outing I took it to a nearby cricket pitch and after about 5 minutes of flying it I lost control and completely destroyed it with the most ungracious upside downy type crash. That was nearly 20 years ago and I can still remember the product today. In fact, I have bought the same product as a gift for 2 different friends since then. Theirs lasted longer than mine and I believe one is still in working order. All the same the lesson I learned is that the aerial on the controller of an RC helicopter works better when it is extended.

Apparently the same fact is true for Radio Controlled planes, who would have thought it! As only a few years later I repeated the same mistake again with a beautiful looking scale model of a Spitfire which flew at head height, level and slow across a different local cricket field before getting out of (the non-extended aerial) control range only to briefly perform a vertical left turn before unceremoniously returning to the well-manicured outfield and disintegrating into an irreparable pile of foam and plastic.

In neither of the two cases did I worry about trying to claim under warranty about the “crash” it was my fault, I knew it and having posthumously read the manuals for both items knew that as with most things I had simply not followed the instructions, guidance or other warnings (especially about taking care to know your own limits when first using the model). But just how far should you go when developing a product to negate problems and ensure the best outcomes for the customer?

The customer is sometimes, mostly, always, probably right.

Having worked with product development teams in everything from electronics, music and fast moving consumer goods just to name a few, I have seen various approaches employed in product development and customer relations management, but the adage that the customer is always right is not always one that is adhered to.

One of the biggest problems that many companies don’t understand is that at the point the product they sell hits the market it is already open to problems. In some situations, because it is bought by someone like me who fails to read instructions, in others the development process and testing simply didn’t provide adequate “what if” scenarios to find every possible problem the product might have in use.

Depending on the processes and procedures you have in place problems in the field can and should inform you constantly of the progress of product improvement, or at least allow you to amend any user instructions or provide adequate information to prevent a user repeating a problem. Additionally it is also wise to make sure the problem is highlighted so that (especially in the case of products sold in larger quantities) people can avoid using the product in a way that yields undesirable results.

Trying to hide the problem while working out a fix often garners additional negativity toward a brand, and in today’s ever connected inter-web world, a bad review can turn into a hundred in a very short time, sometimes from people who have never even used the product!

Recently I have been working on a number of projects for clients where products are being tweaked in readiness to launch. My advice to all of them has been “let’s try and break it and find out what happens”. The end result will be more robust products, more accurate instructions for use and ultimately better, more desirable products.



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