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The secret behind inspiring designers to make beloved gadgets

Successful design-driven companies have a clear point of view and a story to tell that extends to every single person in the company, according to Tony Fadell, the CEO of Nest and a former designer at Apple who led the development of the first 18 iterations of the iPhone. Fadell gave his advice about how to design beloved devices like the iPhone and the Nest thermostat at the Bloomberg Design conference this week, in response to a question about the difference between designing at places like Apple (s AAPL) and Philips (s ADR).

At Philips, and at conglomerates that are much more financially driven, Fadell said that the vast majority of products that the designers work on are not shipped. “Nine times out of ten, or 99 times out of 100, they would kill the project, either at the beginning, the middle or right before the product was supposed to be shipped,” said Fadell.

Roadmap 2012 Tony Fadell Nest
Tony Fadell, Founder and CEO, Nest (c) 2012 Pinar Ozger [email protected]

If the management changed over, and they didn’t understand what the product was, they would just cancel it, explained Fadell.

Such a culture means that designers don’t do their best work and just go through the motions of creating a product. Why put your best work into a project that is just going to be tossed in the dustbin?

In contrast, at Apple, 99 percent of projects that made it past certain milestones shipped, said Fadell. All of the workers at Apple — from the management to the designers to the marketers — had a point of view, a story to tell, and a specific customer envisioned for the product. If management changed, everyone is still on the same page. “When you’re in a culture that has a point of view, and drives to launch everything it does, you know you’re on the hook and you better bring your best game every time,” said Fadell.

Fadell spoke at our RoadMap conference in November 2012, which focused on design in the age of connectedness.

7 Responses to “The secret behind inspiring designers to make beloved gadgets”

  1. Daniel Swanson

    It’s good to see that Mr. Fadell was able to bring with him an important quality of the Apple culture after leaving it.

    After the iPhone debuted, I was fully expecting the competition to have a tough time in even meeting its quality and capabilities. But I didn’t expect to witness the criminal level of lethargy and chicanery in others stealing and illegally copying Apple’s IP.

  2. Do anyone know why Tony Fadell named his company Nest? Anything having to do with the name of Steve Jobs’ company after he left Apple, Next? Perhaps Apple will buy his company one day and we will see the next Apple CEO? After all, Jobs was an entrepreneur and currently no on in Apple management is one.

  3. Amusing to say that others are more profit driven than Apple, when it’s hard to find anyone more profit driven than them.Any decision Apple makes is about money, nothing else.
    The major difference here is that Apple makes very few things,and very few new things so the focus is on that 1 new major product that might make it.
    Tony Fadell has his own interests to protect so he has to put a positive spin on things.

    • actually, your belief is at odds w/ what the management and designers at apple have always stated — they focus solely on building a great product, knowing that the money will follow. every executive and designer has always repeated this mantra; it’s clearly part of their culture. and it explains why they make things w/ much better (and costly) fit & finish…because it’s great. and they know people will spend the extra to make up for those higher manufacturing costs.

      so you basically have it completely backwards, son.