16:42
TED2015

Tony Fadell: The first secret of design is ... noticing

Filmed:

As human beings, we get used to "the way things are" really fast. But for designers, the way things are is an opportunity ... Could things be better? How? In this funny, breezy talk, the man behind the iPod and the Nest thermostat shares some of his tips for noticing -- and driving -- change.

- Product creator
As the originator of the iPod, Tony Fadell is no stranger to disruptive technology. With Nest, he’s zeroed in on tech’s most elusive targets: household appliances. Full bio

In the great 1980s movie
"The Blues Brothers,"
00:13
there's a scene where John Belushi
goes to visit Dan Aykroyd in his apartment
00:16
in Chicago for the very first time.
00:21
It's a cramped, tiny space
00:24
and it's just three feet away
from the train tracks.
00:26
As John sits on Dan's bed,
00:30
a train goes rushing by,
00:32
rattling everything in the room.
00:34
John asks, "How often does
that train go by?"
00:37
Dan replies, "So often, you won't
even notice it."
00:40
And then, something falls off the wall.
00:45
We all know what he's talking about.
00:49
As human beings, we get used
to everyday things
00:51
really fast.
00:53
As a product designer,
it's my job to see those everyday things,
00:55
to feel them, and try
to improve upon them.
00:58
For example, see this piece of fruit?
01:03
See this little sticker?
01:08
That sticker wasn't there
when I was a kid.
01:11
But somewhere as the years passed,
01:14
someone had the bright idea
to put that sticker on the fruit.
01:16
Why?
01:19
So it could be easier for us
01:20
to check out
at the grocery counter.
01:21
Well that's great,
01:23
we can get in and out of
the store quickly.
01:24
But now, there's a new problem.
01:26
When we get home and we're hungry
01:29
and we see this ripe, juicy piece
of fruit on the counter,
01:31
we just want to pick it up
and eat it.
01:34
Except now, we have to look
for this little sticker.
01:37
And dig at it with our nails,
damaging the flesh.
01:42
Then rolling up that sticker --
01:46
you know what I mean.
01:48
And then trying to flick
it off your fingers.
01:49
(Applause)
01:51
It's not fun,
01:56
not at all.
01:57
But something interesting happened.
01:59
See the first time you did it,
you probably felt those feelings.
02:01
You just wanted to eat the piece of fruit.
02:05
You felt upset.
02:07
You just wanted to dive in.
02:08
By the 10th time,
02:10
you started to become less upset
02:12
and you just started peeling
the label off.
02:14
By the 100th time,
at least for me,
02:18
I became numb to it.
02:20
I simply picked up the piece of fruit,
02:22
dug at it with my nails,
tried to flick it off,
02:25
and then wondered,
02:29
"Was there another sticker?"
02:30
So why is that?
02:35
Why do we get used to everyday things?
02:36
Well as human beings,
we have limited brain power.
02:39
And so our brains encode the
everyday things we do into habits
02:42
so we can free up space
to learn new things.
02:47
It's a process called habituation
02:50
and it's one of the most basic ways,
as humans, we learn.
02:52
Now, habituation isn't always bad.
02:57
Remember learning to drive?
03:00
I sure do.
03:03
Your hands clenched at 10 and 2
on the wheel,
03:04
looking at every single
object out there --
03:08
the cars, the lights, the pedestrians.
03:10
It's a nerve-wracking experience.
03:13
So much so, that I couldn't even
talk to anyone else in the car
03:16
and I couldn't even listen to music.
03:20
But then something interesting happened.
03:22
As the weeks went by,
driving became easier and easier.
03:24
You habituated it.
03:30
It started to become
fun and second nature.
03:32
And then, you could talk
to your friends again
03:35
and listen to music.
03:37
So there's a good reason why
our brains habituate things.
03:38
If we didn't, we'd notice
every little detail,
03:41
all the time.
03:44
It would be exhausting,
03:46
and we'd have no time
to learn about new things.
03:48
But sometimes,
habituation isn't good.
03:52
If it stops us from noticing
the problems that are around us,
03:56
well, that's bad.
03:59
And if it stops us from noticing
and fixing those problems,
04:01
well, then that's really bad.
04:04
Comedians know all about this.
04:07
Jerry Seinfeld's entire career was built
on noticing those little details,
04:09
those idiotic things we do every day
that we don't even remember.
04:14
He tells us about the time
he visited his friends
04:20
and he just wanted to take
a comfortable shower.
04:22
He'd reach out and grab the handle
and turn it slightly one way,
04:25
and it was 100 degrees too hot.
04:28
And then he'd turn it the other way,
and it was 100 degrees too cold.
04:31
He just wanted a comfortable shower.
04:35
Now, we've all been there,
04:37
we just don't remember it.
04:39
But Jerry did,
04:41
and that's a comedian's job.
04:43
But designers, innovators
and entrepreneurs,
04:45
it's our job to not just notice
those things,
04:48
but to go one step further
and try to fix them.
04:50
See this, this person,
04:55
this is Mary Anderson.
04:56
In 1902 in New York City,
04:58
she was visiting.
05:00
It was a cold, wet, snowy day
and she was warm inside a streetcar.
05:03
As she was going to her destination,
she noticed the driver opening the window
05:09
to clean off the excess snow
so he could drive safely.
05:14
When he opened the window, though,
he let all this cold, wet air inside,
05:20
making all the passengers miserable.
05:23
Now probably, most of those
passengers just thought,
05:27
"It's a fact of life, he's got
to open the window to clean it.
05:30
That's just how it is."
05:33
But Mary didn't.
05:35
Mary thought,
05:36
"What if the diver could actually clean
the windshield from the inside
05:38
so that he could stay safe and drive
05:41
and the passengers could
actually stay warm?"
05:45
So she picked up her sketchbook
right then and there,
05:48
and began drawing what would become
the world's first windshield wiper.
05:51
Now as a product designer,
I try to learn from people like Mary
05:56
to try to see the world
the way it really is,
06:01
not the way we think it is.
06:03
Why?
06:06
Because it's easy to solve a problem
that almost everyone sees.
06:07
But it's hard to solve a problem
that almost no one sees.
06:11
Now some people think
you're born with this ability
06:16
or you're not,
06:19
as if Mary Anderson was hardwired at birth
to see the world more clearly.
06:20
That wasn't the case for me.
06:26
I had to work at it.
06:28
During my years at Apple,
06:31
Steve Jobs challenged us
to come into work every day,
06:34
to see our products through
the eyes of the customer,
06:39
the new customer,
06:43
the one that has fears
and possible frustrations
06:44
and hopeful exhilaration that their
new technology product
06:47
could work straightaway for them.
06:50
He called it staying beginners,
06:53
and wanted to make sure that we
focused on those tiny little details
06:55
to make them faster, easier and seamless
for the new customers.
06:59
So I remember this clearly
in the very earliest days of the iPod.
07:04
See, back in the '90s,
07:09
being a gadget freak like I am,
07:10
I would rush out to the store
for the very, very latest gadget.
07:15
I'd take all the time to get to the store,
07:21
I'd check out, I'd come back home,
I'd start to unbox it.
07:23
And then, there was
another little sticker:
07:26
the one that said, "Charge before use."
07:30
What!
07:34
I can't believe it!
07:35
I just spent all this time
buying this product
07:36
and now I have to charge before use.
07:38
I have to wait what felt like an eternity
to use that coveted new toy.
07:40
It was crazy.
07:45
But you know what?
07:46
Almost every product back then did that.
07:47
When it had batteries in it,
07:49
you had to charge it
before you used it.
07:51
Well, Steve noticed that
07:54
and he said,
07:57
"We're not going to let that
happen to our product."
07:57
So what did we do?
08:00
Typically, when you have a product
that has a hard drive in it,
08:02
you run it for about
30 minutes in the factory
08:05
to make sure that hard drive's going
to be working years later
08:08
for the customer after they
pull it out of the box.
08:11
What did we do instead?
08:14
We ran that product for over two hours.
08:17
Why?
08:19
Well, first off, we could make
a higher quality product,
08:21
be easy to test,
08:24
and make sure it was great
for the customer.
08:26
But most importantly,
08:29
the battery came fully charged
right out of the box,
08:31
ready to use.
08:34
So that customer,
with all that exhilaration,
08:35
could just start using the product.
08:38
It was great, and it worked.
08:40
People liked it.
08:43
Today, almost every product
that you get that's battery powered
08:44
comes out of the box fully charged,
08:47
even if it doesn't have a hard drive.
08:49
But back then, we noticed
that detail and we fixed it,
08:52
and now everyone else does that as well.
08:56
No more, "Charge before use."
08:59
So why am I telling you this?
09:02
Well, it's seeing the invisible problem,
09:04
not just the obvious problem,
that's important,
09:06
not just for product design,
but for everything we do.
09:11
You see, there are invisible problems
all around us,
09:14
ones we can solve.
09:18
But first we need
to see them, to feel them.
09:20
So, I'm hesitant to give you any tips
09:24
about neuroscience or psychology.
09:26
There's far too many experienced people
in the TED community
09:29
who would know much more
about that than I ever will.
09:32
But let me leave you with
a few tips that I do,
09:36
that we all can do,
to fight habituation.
09:38
My first tip is to look broader.
09:42
You see, when you're tackling a problem,
09:45
sometimes, there are a lot of steps
that lead up to that problem.
09:47
And sometimes, a lot
of steps after it.
09:51
If you can take a step back
and look broader,
09:54
maybe you can change some of those boxes
09:57
before the problem.
09:59
Maybe you can combine them.
10:00
Maybe you can remove them altogether
to make that better.
10:02
Take thermostats, for instance.
10:06
In the 1900s when they first came out,
they were really simple to use.
10:08
You could turn them up or turn them down.
10:11
People understood them.
10:13
But in the 1970s,
10:16
the energy crisis struck,
10:17
and customers started thinking about
how to save energy.
10:19
So what happened?
10:23
Thermostat designers decided
to add a new step.
10:24
Instead of just turning up and down,
10:27
you now had to program it.
10:29
So you could tell it the temperature
you wanted at a certain time.
10:31
Now that seemed great.
10:34
Every thermostat had
started adding that feature.
10:36
But it turned out that no one
saved any energy.
10:40
Now, why is that?
10:44
Well, people couldn't predict the future.
10:45
They just didn't know how their weeks
would change season to season,
10:48
year to year.
10:52
So no one was saving energy,
10:54
and what happened?
10:56
Thermostat designers went back
to the drawing board
10:57
and they focused on that programming step.
11:00
They made better U.I.s,
11:02
they made better documentation.
11:05
But still, years later,
people were not saving any energy
11:07
because they just couldn't
predict the future.
11:12
So what did we do?
11:15
We put a machine-learning algorithm in
instead of the programming
11:16
that would simply watch
when you turned it up and down,
11:20
when you liked a certain temperature
when you got up,
11:23
or when you went away.
11:26
And you know what?
11:27
It worked.
11:29
People are saving energy
without any programming.
11:30
So, it doesn't matter what you're doing.
11:35
If you take a step back
and look at all the boxes,
11:37
maybe there's a way
to remove one or combine them
11:40
so that you can make
that process much simpler.
11:43
So that's my first tip: look broader.
11:47
For my second tip, it's to look closer.
11:50
One of my greatest teachers
was my grandfather.
11:54
He taught me all about the world.
11:59
He taught me how things were built
and how they were repaired,
12:01
the tools and techniques necessary
to make a successful project.
12:05
I remember one story
he told me about screws,
12:09
and about how you need to have
the right screw for the right job.
12:14
There are many different screws:
12:17
wood screws, metal screws,
anchors, concrete screws,
12:19
the list went on and on.
12:24
Our job is to make products
that are easy to install
12:27
for all of our customs themselves
without professionals.
12:30
So what did we do?
12:34
I remembered that story
that my grandfather told me,
12:36
and so we thought,
12:39
"How many different screws
can we put in the box?
12:40
Was it going to be two, three,
four, five?
12:43
Because there's so many
different wall types."
12:46
So we thought about it, we optimized it,
12:48
and we came up with three different
screws to put in the box.
12:51
We thought that was going
to solve the problem.
12:55
But it turned out, it didn't.
12:58
So we shipped the product,
13:01
and people weren't having
a great experience.
13:03
So what did we do?
13:06
We went back to the drawing board
13:07
just instantly after we figured out
we didn't get it right.
13:09
And we designed a special screw,
a custom screw,
13:12
much to the chagrin of our investors.
13:16
They were like, "Why are you spending
so much time on a little screw?
13:18
Get out there and sell more!"
13:21
And we said, "We will sell more
if we get this right."
13:23
And it turned out, we did.
13:27
With that custom little screw,
there was just one screw in the box,
13:29
that was easy to mount
and put on the wall.
13:32
So if we focus on those tiny details,
the ones we may not see
13:37
and we look at them as we say,
13:44
"Are those important
13:46
or is that the way we've always done it?
13:47
Maybe there's a way to get rid of those."
13:50
So my last piece of advice
is to think younger.
13:54
Every day, I'm confronted with interesting
questions from my three young kids.
14:00
They come up with questions like,
14:04
"Why can't cars fly around traffic?"
14:06
Or, "Why don't my shoelaces
have Velcro instead?"
14:09
Sometimes, those questions are smart.
14:14
My son came to me the other day
and I asked him,
14:17
"Go run out to the mailbox
and check it."
14:19
He looked at me, puzzled, and said,
14:23
"Why doesn't the mailbox just check itself
and tell us when it has mail?" (Laughter)
14:27
I was like, "That's a pretty
good question."
14:32
So, they can ask tons of questions
14:36
and sometimes we find out
we just don't have the right answers.
14:39
We say, "Son, that's just the way
the world works."
14:44
So the more we're exposed to something,
14:50
the more we get used to it.
14:52
But kids haven't been around
long enough
14:54
to get used to those things.
14:56
And so when they run into problems,
14:58
they immediately try to solve them,
15:00
and sometimes they find a better way,
15:02
and that way really is better.
15:05
So my advice that we take to heart
is to have young people on your team,
15:08
or people with young minds.
15:14
Because if you have those young minds,
15:16
they cause everyone in the room
to think younger.
15:18
Picasso once said,
"Every child is an artist.
15:21
The problem is when he or she grows up,
is how to remain an artist."
15:27
We all saw the world more clearly
when we saw it for the first time,
15:33
before a lifetime of habits
got in the way.
15:37
Our challenge is to get back there,
15:40
to feel that frustration,
15:43
to see those little details,
15:45
to look broader,
15:47
look closer,
15:49
and to think younger
15:51
so we can stay beginners.
15:53
It's not easy.
15:56
It requires us pushing back
15:57
against one of the most basic ways
we make sense of the world.
15:58
But if we do,
16:03
we could do some pretty amazing things.
16:04
For me, hopefully, that's better
product design.
16:07
For you, that could mean something else,
something powerful.
16:10
Our challenge is to wake up
each day and say,
16:18
"How can I experience the world better?"
16:21
And if we do, maybe, just maybe,
16:24
we can get rid of these
dumb little stickers.
16:29
Thank you very much.
16:34
(Applause)
16:35

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About the Speaker:

Tony Fadell - Product creator
As the originator of the iPod, Tony Fadell is no stranger to disruptive technology. With Nest, he’s zeroed in on tech’s most elusive targets: household appliances.

Why you should listen

Tony Fadell became a tech superstar as a colleague of Steve Jobs and developer of the iPod, which rejuvenated Apple, rebooted entire industries and changed the way the world consumes entertainment.

After leaving Apple, Fadell founded Nest on a familiar experience -- frustration with household technology, still resolutely frozen in the 20th century. With its first products, Nest has brought the modern household one step closer to becoming a truly connected “smarthome.” In January 2014, Nest became Google’s second-biggest acquisition to date, positioning both companies to become revolutionary players in home technology.

More profile about the speaker
Tony Fadell | Speaker | TED.com