Design fermentation

When we start something new, we can expect it to not work immediately. We need time to develop a product, test our assumptions with real users, learn from their feedback and adjust accordingly even after we have failed. This is an iterative process that can take much longer than the average person will be willing to stay informed on our progress. Markets seem to crave heroes, disruption, loudness, news about billions and demonstrative behavior. Seen through this lens, the effort of a lot people would seems a failure. Yet, they are the ones that enable the economy to work, not the few heroes that extract the juices through the roots of a deep hierarchy. Seeking more heroes is an indirect attempt to overpower a wider mass of people to obey to certain directives. Is then the design of such a system necessarily better than the system of design that we all neglect?

Design isn't showtime; it's a slow, dedicated activity over time in the presence of gradually improving levels of clarity and awareness. It's first making sense of the state in which the world is, before trying to change it for the better. Without true understanding we wouldn't know in which direction to move or why we should do it. Design doesn't happen in a day, but is a result of a long history of collective effort over time. We can say that a good design is a result of fermentation. We carefully select a combination of unique ingredients of the highest quality (in whatever form), mix them together in the proper amounts (not too much, not too little), provide an environment in which they can thrive (in whatever form) and hermetically close the whole, so that microorganisms (in whatever form) can gradually improve its quality over time. The longer we wait, the better the result becomes. The quality of the ingredients and their characteristics improve and if not, we can still taste the mix, manipulate only the parts we dislike (through subtraction/addition) and resume the process. If we wait long enough, we can eventually establish the balanced taste that we were after at the beginning. But we never changed the amount produced, so by the time that people eventually start to like our product, we may have too little to offer them. Additionally, we may have troubles to reproduce our initial product, since we lost track of the best ingredients:environment ratio due to our constant manipulations. The last problem is probably more prevalent with physical products than with digital ones. But a design, whose quality can't be maintained, can never be good.

Many factors will try to stop the fermentation from taking place, thus spoiling our precious ingredients. It can be the environment that isn't supportive enough for these kinds of ingredients (right fit), it can be the contents of the ingredient that neutralize some of the positive effect of the environment, it can be an outside bacteria-inhibitor that passed unnoticed in the mix, it can be insufficiently tight packing of the ingredients or an extra free space left in the container, leaving too much room for air to enter, it can be too much content, creating pressure against the opening or even carelessness in closing it well. What is worse is that we may never learn why the fermentation process failed; the only thing we can do is to start again. Relying too much on a single product from the start can be risky, because we never know what can happen. But if we have a lot of experience with similar systems, we may be able to improve it in a non-destructive way. Still, the design would be the result of a lot of lessons learned over time and not of the "do-it-today" mentality.

We need to be sure that our product truly solves the problem that we attacked in a very useful and usable way (a sign of good design). Many products are just advertised of being able to do so. There's rarely a good, credible and comparative assessment of their qualities in use that is available to the public. Even if our product truly solves the problem, it may be at the expense of creating secondary ones. Such a design can work only if we remain constantly aware of all available problem trees and tackle them throughout our fermentation process. Otherwise, knowing that our product is incomplete would make it unethical to sell (yes!). It's often said that startups should find ways to sell their products faster, but if these products are bad, this can by itself create a passive with the clients and make them reluctant to try other products again. It's healthy to proceed from the position that no action remains unnoticed. Sales are rarely just a product in exchange for money, but much more of what people think not only about the product, but also about the company and the nature of the mutual relationship. Effective fermentation may be the only way to change a buyer's mindset and this only if we have luck.

Design doesn't remain static over time and forces outside our control are often the explanatory reason. Nevertheless, this doesn't prevent us from improving what we can step-by-step, even when other companies decide to change their focus. Improvement in a well-known area can be much harder to achieve (and thus more valuable) than simply changing to an area we know nothing about, but where the basics would be widely accessible. One necessary step for a successful fermentation is having faith in the mix.

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