What is your most successful product?

I recently had to answer this question in an interview. I picked a product at my current day job that I worked on and sold extremely well. The interviewer asked me, “so, it is your most successful product because it has sold well?”, I said, “yes”, and they said, “Ok, how many did you sell?”. I had no idea, so it kinda died there, and we went on. So, I’d like to hear some answers from other designers, what was your most successful product that you took to market, and why? Maybe I can be better prepared for the future. Thank you!

The one I like the most I call my RICO Act product.

We have been making a particular product line for over 20 years, long before I started. It has the potential of causing great damage, costing our customers thousands of dollars. It caused some of our customers to kick that product out of their facility. Total sales of that product line are about $100MM. The amount of sales lost I think was about $5MM.

We developed a separate product to solve that problem and launched it 3 years ago. It has about a 90% GP and this year we are on track to $2MM in sales. We charge our customers to fix a problem we created.

God bless capitalism.

frdiby: Try to get figures. It’s important to non-IDers.

Thanks again guys! Sounds like I need to do some sleuth work. The project management guys are always talking numbers like these, I can probably just ask them when I walk by their office in the hall sometime. I might even ask them what they think our most successful product has been…hmm.

I once designed a product that sold 300,000 units in a quarter. I got promoted that year.

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Probably the last one that got launched, the K780 keyboard for Logitech.
I lead the design from Logitech’s side with Feiz Design in Amsterdam doing a lot of the hands-on ID work.
It was a great collab.

It just picked up a Red Dot “Best of the Best” award. I know those awards are a bit dubious but it’s nice to get some recognition.

Probably the line of B&D laser leveling products I designed from 2001-2007. After a year of focus groups and observational field research, we invented the category and then developed over 20 products to support the various wants/needs. I developed North American specific products for CA/US/SA and then a complementary suite of products (most overlapped but some were regionally specific) for the EU/AUS/NZ.

In that 6 year period the company saw over USD300M in global sales of the various products, we won numerous industry awards (CEA, CR, Castorama, etc) and three of the products are still on the shelves 10 years later…but, the reason I think this family is my most successful is because two of the products still for sale were the only ones for which I was able to implement zero-waste packaging.

Great stuff! I love how these are worded, this is the language of success. Such awesome. Must study! Keep it coming!

I have been in the business for about 5 years and much of my work has been large projects, only some simple products have yet made it to market.
The most successful design I consider the Solar Car I co-developed with the team in Eindhoven, since it won the race and several awards.

It just got featured on the front page of Coroflot:

While working at Lasko Products I designed a heater which sold 400,000 units in one season. While at Likuma Labs I designed a product for Biomeme which has netted them over $5MM in revenue. I also designed a product this year for a Philadelphia company (being released this summer) which sold to Home Depot before it was even released, a company first for them. Now currently with Noria Technologies which netted 2.2MM in sales from over 5k customers. Accomplishing these things was always the main goal for me when I decided to pursue ID and to make people all over the world happy! Without that in mind, I probably would just have been a model maker forever.

That’s a good start, and as a designer I think it is wise to understand the business impact of your work. I’d recommend showing more interest in this than just passing conversation, make an effort to track sales, volume, and positive end-user feedback. Armed with stats like these you can leverage them in performance evaluations to negotiate raises, promotions, etc. If your company is reluctant to share this information with you, then it is likely they don’t want you using it for the purposes that I mention, ie., they don’t want you to know what their return on their investment of employing you is, in that case I recommend considering moving on.

If you are given access to the info and if you aren’t rewarded accordingly for the success, well then at least you’ll be prepared to discuss it in an interview at a new organization that may place more value on your contributions.

In most cases you certainly cannot claim all credit for a product’s success, there’s many folks responsible for that. This is why I mention the customer feedback bit, if there is positive customer feedback that is tied directly with design decisions or feature recommendations that you made, then this tells a better story about you as a designer to a future employer than just the dollars and volume.

Office politics are a challenge, but I don’t want to be critical of my own people. Sometimes I get a little too timid when I need to reach beyond those political office boundaries. It’s probably best to try pitching this directly to my manager as a way we both can gauge our success and future design vision. Of course, I’m also trying to gather info to prove my worth to future employers. I’m in a position that provides a lot of experience for an entry level designer, but I’ve far outgrown it (no challenge). When I do move on, hopefully I can leave a place that will provide an even more fulfilling experience for future designers. That takes some courage on my part to speak up for the value of design. Thanks for your advice Greenman!

I use the Logitech K270 frequently. I keep it on my lap 60% of the time.

I’d venture to say in all cases.

And it is something I note in interviews. If the candidate repeatedly uses “I” and never uses “we”, that is a serious red flag for me.

Totally fair, I’ve been trying to use less absolutes when I communicate. A designer/proprietor/entrepreneur type of individual could likely take more credit for a product’s success rather than a designer who is part of a large corporate team that includes PM’s, marketers, engineers, etc.

However, in regards to the case of a corporate designer who identifies a gap in a product line and takes initiative to do some exploratory design and research, and then puts forth a proposal outside of normal channels, and gets it greenlit as a company initiative that results in a successful product, what then? Should that designer take more credit? Doing this can be challenging politically, and that’s why I think it takes guts.

We do that exactly at my current place of employment. We call those projects the 100. Of those 100, 5 get a greenlight and of those 5, 1 launches. As a rule of thumb.

Generally, our customer-facing portion of NPD finds those 100 and usually asks one of our technical folks (designers) for assistance in developing prototypes for evaluation, which in turn generates some of the data when presenting to management to get a greenlight to the 5. That said, a designer can take the initiative to find a 100, I’m doing a couple myself at this point. And I am certainly capable to make prototypes (although I’m old and usually tell younger people to make me what I want) and I am certainly capable to taking them into the field for evaluation. But our customer-facing people have the contacts so I am going to lean on them.

My point is twofold. First is that we already have a culture of bringing “skunk works” to the light of day. I would hope most NPD organizations have something similar. Second, using the team is much more effective than going lone wolf. And as a manager I would question the efficiency of someone going lone wolf. Work smarter, not harder. Taking credit for something that could have been done better with the team is not a good thing in my book.

If your current culture makes doing NPD a challenge politically, you may want to rethink your organization.

It did, and I’m gone.

Can you elaborate on an example of one product that made it all the way through? The more detail, the better… I’ve been working on some skunk works of my own, and would love to get some insight on how to push them through. Maybe worthy of a separate thread.

Technically, no. I’d be violating my NDA.

But I am happy to speak in general terms. Let’s say I have an idea to fix a problem in the hospital (I have been doing medical device most of my career). First step is to verify and give a concrete definition to the problem. This is critical, the problem is always more difficult than any solution. For example, if a hospital is not actively measuring the problem (let’s say a particular type of infection), it is not a problem. While the type of infection occurs and the patients are getting treated for it, if is not being tracked, the hospital will not buy any solution because the problem doesn’t exist. Yes, healthcare is a most effed up system.

So my customer-facing NPD group indeed determines there is a problem. You then determine the size of the problem. How much money is the hospital spending on the problem. If the market is too small, your larger companies will not generate enough revenue from it to be worthwhile. And unfortunately, the barrier to entry into medical devices is quite high. If you are not a larger company, you don’t have the capital to enter. Another reason “small” problems in heathcare are ignored.

While determining the size of the problem, the technical side is creating a solution. Where I work, we go to prototype asap. Drawings don’t show in the hospital, pretty much worthless for evaluations. Which is fine because my hot sketch capabilities are average at best. Initially, these prototypes are for show only, they do not function on a patient. But you can use them on a consenting healthcare worker to get their impressions. From this, we determine how intuitive is the solution and how much it excites the healthcare worker. Is it considered extra work or does it decrease work? Is there an obvious benefit to the patient or more importantly, is there an obvious benefit to the healthcare worker? Don’t get me wrong, helping the patient is important, but if it inconveniences the HC worker and their perceived benefits to the patient are small, they won’t do it. And if yo need a lot of education to the HC to show the benefit to the patient, it is a product less likely to succeed.

Now you have the evidence. It is a problem. It is a “large” problem. It is intuitive. It has a benefit to patient. It has a benefit to the HC worker. The HC worker is excited about the solution. You then take that data, put it into a slide deck and present to management. If all goes well, you come out of that meeting with a green light and a project number from accounting. Before that getting that project accounting number, skunkworks run off your personal PO number which pretty much limits you to purchases in the 3 figure range. The accounting project number means if you can make the case, you can cut POs in the 6 figure range. You are funded.

For us, we now get more data about the problem more directly from the clinician. In skunkworks, you may one speak to a thought leader or two. Look at the literature. Now, you are talking to multiple though leaders. Going to sites throughout the country, not just our local contacts. Going to medical conferences. Testing of solutions ramps up. Small patient evaluations that grow into large patient evaluations. Before launch, we may even start a clinical study that gets handed to our clinical research team after launch. The customer facing group and our technical group are still looking for the best way yo kill the project. Can’t be manufactured at a cost that will give of the gross profit we want. We can’t sell it at the gross profit we want. Does it have the clinical outcomes we were counting on in the skunkworks phase. Etc. Again, as we gather this information, it is presented to management, especially if we find a way to kill the project. If not, it is green lighted for launch.

After green lighting for launch, you transition out of NPD to the rest of the company. Short term costing, long term costing, product history record, DFMEA, safety testing, specifications, marketing materials, IFU, incomimg inspection plan, tooling plan, etc. After being responsible for first lot to stock, NPD is out and we move on to the next big idea.