Empathy, Courage and Passion

The Secret to Designing Great Products

I’ve worked with remarkable product development businesses over the past ten years and am constantly inspired by the stratospheric success that has been achieved by many. The outcome is always regarded as the hero, but it’s the people and how they achieve this that piques my curiosity.  Obviously the genius, focus and hard work of these teams have contributed, but how did they ‘nail it’? What kind of people make great products?


Being actively involved in marrying what an organisation needs to create a remarkable product design team with what high-achieving people can offer, I’ve been afforded a privileged position. In understanding some of the key characteristics required for successful synthesis of a product three traits of outstanding performers have emerged. Of course there are the technical components, the thorough understanding of process and design principles and a natural bent towards creativity. But in conjunction with these it’s empathy, passion and courage that set the most successful players on a product design team apart. 



The success of product design all starts with empathy. The ability to extract yourself from your role, disregard what you know to be true and put yourself firmly in the shoes of the customer.  Feel their misery; key to product evolution. Identifying and focusing on a customer’s  most pressing issue informs the best product design decisions and true empathy allows you to push aside your preconceptions, your justifications and “buts” and explore these in an unbiased, simplified way. The solutions that solve this pain provide your best product design opportunities. If they don’t, it's not a solution.



Passion has become a buzzword.  But it is passion that sets apart the great from the good.  Those who feel a deep connection to their purpose will challenge the status quo and find that opportunity to make the product design better.  Concentrating this passion allows ideas to bloom into something that will excite the product’s audience.  They will be creative in response to the problems and be energized by the prospect of the product changing the game in even a small way. In turn, this attribute feeds resilience and drives success beyond the immediate needs of the design.



An effective team will be courageous in their creativity and stick to the decisions that give a product integrity in addressing the real problem.  If it wasn’t hard to do, everyone would be doing it. Have the courage to go big, be bold and take a risk - the bigger the innovation and evolution the greater the rewards. Don’t do iterations, do innovation. Leadership also need to foster an environment for coping with mistakes so people can take risks.  If those risks don’t bear fruit and fail then the team can pivot quickly.


In summary, without empathy you won’t have focus on the core issues.  How will your innovation turn customers from users to advocates?  Without passion for the product, how will you rally the troops to get excited about it and care deeply enough about the outcome?  If you don’t have the courage to be brave in your decision making and discipline, how do you know that it will be the best that you can produce?