Great Design needs Great Empathy — from temple stalls to MacBook

Incense Sticks Paving the Way to Good Design (image credits: <a href=’https://www.freepik.com/photos/people'>People photo created by freestockcenter — www.freepik.com</a>)

“A thing of beautiful design is a joy forever”

The greatest designs that I have seen are so simply beautiful and elegant and more important than all, useful. It just brings joy to everyone!

This little epiphany comes from a small incident today.

My mother-in-law and I visited a local temple today. Before entering the temple, we bought some incense sticks and offerings for the deities. Now, I was prudent enough to carry a pair of scissors to this temple. There was no real security check or anything (but maybe there should be?), so I was able to do that. The reason for carrying scissors (drumroll please, while I prepare to reveal my awesome preparedness) was that, cutting the packets of the offerings or the incense sticks can be very difficult. This is especially when there is a queue waiting behind and staring at you, while you nervously fumble to tear apart the plastic and paper.

I was proud that I had prepared myself well. When our turn arrived, I promptly fished out the blades and cut across the packets I needed to cut. I thought, I am so smart and sanguine. But the happiness was short-lived. In my effort to use my superior planning skills to save myself from pruning disasters, I had completely forgotten the other important component of temple visits. Access to fire.

I had forgotten to get the only source of fire allowed in a temple- matchsticks. It may seem like a trivial thing for you, dear reader. But when you imagine a horde of people staring at you as you stand fire-less with a bunch of incense sticks waiting to be lighted, it is really something. But right then, something magical happened.

As I plucked the incense packet open, two neatly packed matchboxes fell out to my palm! Neatly packed matchboxes just so that I can light up the incense sticks without having had to remember to get a matchbox. I almost cried in joy. My mother in law was very happy too, since my excitement and visible joy in temples was not something she had seen before. I lit the incense sticks gloriously and went on my merry way.

So, somewhere in the incense factory, someone thought that it is a good idea to include matchboxes within the packet of incense sticks. I can imagine that the person who came up with the idea may have visualised a bumbling persona like me, matchstick-less in a crowded temple. And hence, the product cost of a mere INR 1.00 and a tremendous benefit of having access to fire was added to the product. What thinking! For me, this is great design. And innovation as well. A little thing of scant cost, adding value and ease.

Somewhere on the other side of the spectrum, I saw great design in action on the famed MacBook. As I installed a piece of software on the system (I am a novice Mac user), I saw that the system gave me an option to delete the installer file at the end of the process. How elegant! In a previous life as a gamer in college, I used to spend some time every week deleting installer files of large games to free up memory on my PC. That single piece of novelty from Mac just won my heart.

I think the ability to come up with great design comes from the ability to empathise- to actually see the user in the environment and in the context where the product needs to be used. I am really inspired by both the little design marvels I saw today, and I hope to use that inspiration in work soon!

P.S. — The incense stick company is called “Cycle”.

Product analyst. Agile enthusiast. ThoughtWorker. Wrote a book. Behind 9 products gone live!

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