They said it wouldn't sell...

I know there must be these kinds stories around, so I thought i’d ask…

Does any one have a story about a specific product that when in prototype/pre-production stage people (sales/marketing/whatever dept) said it wouldn’t sell for whatever reason (too expensive, too different, etc), yet in production the product went on to be very successful (or an icon even) because of the design?

I often think about this, because good design is often different, challenges people to think a different way and may weird people out esp. in a conservative industry.


ha. I’ve heard that so many times before.

Unfortunately, what I find sometimes happens is that if sales/marketing/whatever dont believe it will sell, there can be a lack of support/push for the product which can affect the ultimate sales. Self-fulfilling prophecy.

I have had it happen many times though that a project will get killed in development because “it wont sell”, only to have a competitor release a very similar product/color/idea soon thereafter to become a huge sucess. In these cases, I like to forward a pic of it to whoever killed with a little “told ya so” line for good fun :slight_smile:

Ultimately, nobody knows for sure what can sell. Even the best designers/companies get it wrong with the best market research/focus group advice…

What I do think is important, is to realize the perspective of designers that are focused on the future and what will be…as opposed to marketing/sales that is often looking back on what sold last season, and then wants to do one of those products after the fact while it is a hit (and most often is done by the time anyone could bring something similiar to market to catch the trend. Being “first” is risky, but of course can be very rewarding. Some companies more than others I think recognize this, and are willing to take the risk for to reap the sucess it can bring. Often, these companies are very design focused (as opposed to sales/marketing).


…circa 1975, i worked a project with an engineer who had converted a blow-dryer into a popcorn popper…we had a working prototype and several workable design concepts, but marketing determined that the extra cost for the fan etc would make the product too expensive and the consumer wouldn’t buy it…the project was dropped and within a year a competitor introduced the same concept which became a runaway success, until microwave popcorn came along about 10 years later…both the engineer and i had lunch with the marketing vp one day…when this subject came up, the vp had more than a half dozen other stories where he had ‘passed’ on concepts which became successful products by others…he seemed to ware his short-sightedness as a badge of honor…i haven’t had lunch with a marketing person since.

… years and years ago, Coca-Cola went to my grandfather in Ireland who was a drinks distributor, and asked him to be the first distributor for Coca-Cola in Ireland. He said no because he didn’t think it was going to sell.

And he was right. Apparently Coca-Cola went through about 4 distributors, crippling a few of them financially, before Coke became a recongnised soft drink.

Here’s the trick to overcoming the dumbass marketing types that have the power to kill a great idea:

If I come up with an innovative design that might meet some resistance, I treat it like a Skunkworks project. It gets developed under wraps until it’s presentable. Then one day I leave a rendering out on a table or desk so someone from marketing can “discover” it. The act of discovery makes it their idea and I instantly have a sponsor for the project. Without that sponsorship it would have died an instant death as it moved up the company food chain.

Of course the design usually goes through a few iterations so everyone in marketing can put their thumb print on it (painful process). That’s the price you pay for developing products at a large company. Thankfully I’m working at a company where I manage both marketing (yes, I’m the dumbass) as well as product development. All of my battles are fought in my own head - causing borderline schizophrenia sometimes.

ha. good technique. i have done the same thing too, developing something in quasi secret to reveal a more finished product that marketing/sales can discover.

I have found all too often, no matter what the communication is (renderings, presentations, etc.) sometimes its difficult to get others on board at an early stage before something tangible cna be held/felt. Of course this is always the challenge for designers to pitch an idea and different individuals/depts. can be more or less receptive.

From my own experience, a lot has to do with the precieved value of design and designers in the company. Some really see design as just a service and think that sales/marketing can design too. Others recognize that designers look forward while usually sales/marketing look back.

The “discovery” and getting people to think its their idea is a good one!

any other tricks to get around these issues of prematurely killing something cool?


The only way we can win these arguments is to use business metrics that can be understood by other departments. Below is an article on how Chuck Jones, at Whirpool, is attempting to do this:

Good article, thanks.


Here’s a funny story.

Russel Swanson is a guy I went to high school with. His dad was apparently asked to work on storyboards for a sci-fi movie set to come out in the late '70’s. His dad, however, thought it would be too campy to work on.

Star Wars went on to become one of the highest grossing movies ever.

Read through the reader’s comments - there are quite a few designers commenting on that article and do not agree with Chuck Jones’ approach.

I tend to agree with them.

If you read the one comment, that person talks about how consumer feedback was negative initially for the Whirlpool Duet products. If they had taken that feedback to heart, the project would have been canned right there. It only made it to market because Chuck ignored the feedback and moved forward on instinct. Basically it sounds like Chuck has done a complete 360 now and is contradicting himself.