This article is a transcription of the #14 episode of IDology - the industrial design podcast by Mindsailors. You can watch the entire episode on YouTube or listen to the audio version on Spotify, Apple Podcasts or Google Podcasts.
In this episode, our company’s COO, Voytek Holysz, sat down with the co-founder of industrial design company Mindsailors and senior designer himself, Rafal Pilat and Mikołaj Wiewióra, a senior industrial designer of Mindsailors, to discuss how important it is to educate your environment. Chances are you've encountered situations in life where a minor misunderstanding turned into a major issue. This is not just true in everyday interactions but also in the world of industrial design. In this field, where clear communication is crucial, misunderstandings can have even more significant consequences. It's important, therefore, to ensure that everyone involved in a project speaks the same language and shares a common understanding of the objectives.
Voytek Holysz: Hey, guys. It’s Monday morning. I know we barely have any energy left for this week but let’s try and talk about the need and importance of educating your clients and yourselves as experts. Being experts and working with experts on a daily basis, sometimes, it might seem difficult when you get to work with someone who is not an expert, but for example, has expert expectations. And that’s where sometimes you need to be this sort of, I wouldn’t say, negotiator, but probably also, but definitely an educator. Not everyone is okay with that role or simply not everyone likes it. I know that we, the three of us, agree that educating your clients is important. So I would love to hear from you, Mikołaj, let’s start with you: Why do you think it is important to put in the effort to educate your clients or even potential clients?
Mikołaj Wiewióra: Right. The effort is always worth it because it’s like an investment. If you invest your time into educating about a particular topic that you would like to know better, you always get something new in your head, and you understand more. That’s why when we are talking about product development, or product design, we tend to step into something new with each project. It is a good assumption that we certainly don’t know everything about this project that we are starting. Even though we have got experience as product designers: with materials, with technologies, with approach for developing new projects, we cannot assume that everyone in the room has the same knowledge. And that’s why I think we have to set the baseline between each other, our clients or ourselves, younger designers, senior designers, so-called everyone in the room, so that we have got a mutual understanding of words, terms, basically everything that is around the topic that we are going to cover. That’s why, I think, it’s no better time to educate before we get into trouble. Let’s start with educating ourselves before the journey begins. This is my opinion.
Voytek: This actually, for me, also resonates well with respecting each other’s experience, because it’s like cooking. Let's say, you make a great carrot cake and you also make a great carrot cake, Mikołaj, but when you guys meet and start talking about it, it turns out, you make it in a whole different way than you do. And the result is a bit different: still both are great, still both our carrot cake and there’s rarely only one way to approach something. So it’s important to not only educate yourself further, but also horizontally, in a way. What’s your opinion on what Mikołaj has just said?
Rafał Piłat: I totally agree. We know that assumption is the worst form of communication. If we just come to the table and start the project, with the assumption that the other side has the exact knowledge, has the exact experience that we have, and operates with the same language as we do, then we can be very disappointed with the end result of such cooperation. It’s always, in my opinion, best to make sure that we are talking the same language. And we do have the same understanding of the fundamental definitions that we will use during the project.
Voytek: Sometimes, it boils down to really like crazy details that you think shouldn’t be a problem. But I remember last year, I was talking with Anita on the podcast about how vastly different the understanding, or the definition of a prototype can be, more of a 3D render or a 3D file or whatever, sometimes it seems that it’s so basic and so obvious, yet it still can cause serious misunderstandings.
Mikołaj: True. Correct. I’ve got some experience in teaching on how to use CAD software. Believe it or not, the biggest problems are the easiest things. Like the “you have to click there” command - if you don’t tell people with which mouse button you have to click, then the error rate grows exponentially. Because we assume that it is so obvious, as you’ve said, Voytek - with prototypes, that when we speak about something, that we just don’t have to translate into, not another language, but into a more broad definition of what the, for example, prototype is. So, basically, when we are talking with newcomers, so to say, about different stages of our design process, we usually tend to over-communicate, because we believe that even if we say something two or three times, it is better than not to say anything about a particular step. So it, of course, depends on the person that you are talking to on the other side, because it may be an experienced specialist in certain areas like injection molding, because they already have some products, they know a lot about the injection molding process. But maybe they don’t know something about electronics. And then, if you want to make hardware with electronics inside, just having knowledge about injection molding is not sufficient enough to deliver this product. That’s why we sometimes have to talk a little about this particular area or any other areas that are important for this product, like standards, everything else.
Voytek:You have mentioned newcomers. So inexperienced business owners, like startup founders who base their business on, for example, getting external funding, and it is their first business and as their first product ever. Let’s use this as a base example.
Mikołaj: We can make it more precise. It’s their first hardware product ever, because it also is different when you deliver a software product than delivering a hardware product.
Voytek: Rafał - from your experience - is it difficult, or is it appreciated or how you should approach educating that type of clients who are not necessarily fully aware of what’s ahead of them? And do they usually accept advice or is it more of a negotiation on their side?
Rafał: So, I guess this depends... It’s very subjective to the specific client because there are different types of personas and of course, you never know who your client is going to be. Sometimes we do work with experienced clients and it’s obviously much easier for us to work with someone who has prior knowledge before they start working with us, they have some knowledge. Then, our education is focusing on defining the notions that are important for us. Basically, defining the expectations of each stage, what is the actual end result of each stage, what the client gets in the end of each stage.
Voytek: Like the prototype example, like, telling them that this will end with a prototype, they might have a different idea of what a prototype is.
Rafał: Exactly, and we try to clarify this, we try to simply define those notions, and then we have a mutual understanding that “Okay, we are working, we do have the same base knowledge: this is the end goal, at the end you will receive this and that, and it will work like this.” It works the best with experienced and inexperienced clients because as I said, you cannot assume that the prototype that you have in mind is the exact same prototype that our client has in mind, in his or her mind.
Voytek: Sure. Okay. And I understand correctly that you said that basically the same sort of approach you should have with experienced clients as well?
Rafał: Yes, because if we haven’t worked with someone before, for instance, we do need to communicate how our process looks like we do have—
Voytek: Like the carrot cake example. It might be experienced, but simply there are different cooks.
Rafał: Exactly. This is our recipe for baking new products. And sure, you might have some prior experience with a different recipe. But this is how we work and come and have checked this. And let’s negotiate or let’s talk about this, why we should add resins, raisins to the cheesecake.
Voytek: Raisins or resins, that will be quite a different experience. <laughter>
Rafał: Raisins to the cheesecake. Right. <laughter>
Voytek: Okay. But that is a whole different situation. Because I assume when you talk to an inexperienced person, they are aware that their experience is limited or non-existent. Rarely do they think that they are experts when they have no idea what you are talking about… But let’s put that aside. When you work with an experienced client, and you still need to educate each other, I assume that’s more difficult because maybe some ego comes into play, maybe someone thinks they know better. And that’s it. Is it a totally different approach to the same process of educating each other?
Mikołaj: I think it’s not totally different. Each of us has a different approach, of course, because we are different people and simply, we approach our clients or the people that we are talking with differently. Someone is really eager to talk about tiny details of the project because he simply has something to say about the detail that he’s talking about. It’s very informative, but for the receiver that would like to know something about these details, what I am talking about, of course sometimes you have got your interlocutor that doesn’t really care about what you are saying and you have to feel that because then you will be boring for them. “Why do you even say these details or describe all this complicated process to me? I don’t care. I just want the product to have.” But if the talk comes into something like this…
Voytek: You know you are in trouble.
Mikołaj: We know that we have to switch a little bit with our communication to still deliver this educational talk but in a different way. It’s not about the process or the detail; sometimes it’s about the results that we get. So if we say that if you learn a little bit more on what you have in your mind, when you get to know something more from the area that we are experts in, you will be able to give us better feedback, for example. You will be able to, I don’t want to say steer us into the direction that you want us to follow, but you could give us better directions on what you have in your mind. It’s always a language barrier. Even though we are speaking the same language, we could speak Polish, we could speak Spanish, we could speak English, it doesn’t matter which language we speak. It’s still a communication channel. If we are speaking with experienced people, we have to know what experience they have. Because we can say, “Okay, you are an experienced guy, you have introduced several hundreds of products that were injection molded but now you have to introduce a product that is CNC machined. And what kind of expert are you in that area? We have to know something about you. And you have to know something about us.” So I think, it’s not so different between early or just starting people in the product development industry, and a very experienced one, we have to find the right channel of communication between each other, and then put some knowledge throughout the process.
Voytek: And you need to still keep in mind that it’s a two-way process, right?
Rafał: Right. We, as designers, and let’s say, project managers as well, we should be aware that we are not omnipotent in terms of knowledge and experience. Sure, it can be huge or definitely we have experience with different kinds of projects but never assume that you know everything. Have humility and be able to accept the fact that your client might be educated in some areas better than you. I guess, this is a valid approach to be able to look critically on your actual work, and be able to simply accept the fact that you need to still educate yourself in certain areas. For instance, a new project poses a new challenge, and of course, be aware of that. And I would say, don’t be afraid to say that you don’t know something. I guess this is a principle of being an expert to simply being able to admit that you don’t know something but you at least have a basic knowledge of the area that you need to look further or educate yourself.
Voytek: Well, as a company - as Mindsailors, we try to educate our clients sort of ahead of time. This podcast is a part of it, our blog is a part of it so, whenever we just talk with any company or any person, we can sometimes refer them to an episode or to an article just to give them a better understanding of what we are actually talking about, aspects specific to their project. But how do you guys personally approach working on that process of educating your client or just evening out the understanding between both parties, you personally in your work?
Mikołaj: My method is to listen at first, to educate myself about the client's expectations, about their experience and also about the team that is going to work on the project. Each team member from the client’s side has their own experience, of course, and has a big impact on the project as the time progresses. If we are talking with project managers, they usually communicate with us by means of time, costs and things that are more business oriented.
Voytek: Spreadsheet language.
Mikołaj: Spreadsheet language. However, product design, especially novel product design, is not always about the timeline. It’s rather about the end result. And not always the timeline meets the end result or the end result meets the timeline. That’s why we have to have Plan B or Plan C, on how to approach the project and the end result.
Voytek: Or manage expectations for the end result.
Mikołaj: Or manage expectations, yes, or tweak our approach during the design process. So the first method is to find as much as I can about our client. The second thing is that, my approach is that they are experts, not me, they are experts about the project that they are doing. This is an honest assumption. It’s not being very polite to them; it’s an honest assumption. If an expert, for example… We had a project with some breathing sensor, we can say it was Clebre - the guy behind this project is a really experienced man in the field of laryngology. So, I am not an expert in that area. Definitely. And this product wouldn’t even come to my mind. Of course, we could define all the constraints, we could define all the requirements for the product, once the idea was established, and the idea was behind this guy who has many years of experience in this area. So they are experts, this is my second assumption on a particular topic or area.
Voytek: I’ll cut in for a minute. They are the expert, of course, especially when it comes to the topic for example, but that also in a way, makes them quite competent in product design for the industry that they are experts in: because they know the products, they know the usability, they know how you use something, what will be comfortable, what will be not. This is something also that refers directly to a physical product, not necessarily to the fact that they are an expert in a field totally.
Mikołaj: Yes, because they know the problem. They know the problem, which they are trying to solve with their new product. And this is the baseline for me. Now, when the client knows, or the people behind the project know that we as Mindsailors, treat them equally, like they are experts in their field, and we are doing our best to be the experts in our field, then it is a win-win situation. So having these two parameters already in, we can start with our methodologies or our approaches to know something more about the project. Before we start designing, we tend to make some meetings called workshops. Because setting the same language is a process. It’s not a single call. It’s not a single email or big document that is attached to the agreement between us. No. It’s a process that even evolves during the design process. So it is in parallel, we know each other more and more so we don’t have to tell this much in the middle of the process, because we already have some knowledge between us. This approach, like a cake recipe, is pictured in our process as well. Rafał has mentioned that you could already have a design process or product development behind you, but with another company that had a little bit different approach for this, but the end result is still a product. So, that’s why we also have some recipes for making our products or baking our products. So that we know at the beginning, on which steps we are going to discuss about this particular project. The last thing that we try to, it’s not a good word for that. <laughter> And the last thing when we are working on new products, I believe, is assuming that we simply cannot be experts at everything. So sometimes there is a situation that for our client, we don’t know something at 100% or don’t have 100% knowledge to deliver this product. And being a product designer, is being an expert in finding the right experts for manufacturing, for doing a particular part of the prototype. Because we could be good at some things, I am good at surface modeling but I am not good at welding; someone might be good at sheet metal design, but not be as good at CNC machined parts. So we have to collect these experts to deliver the product on time, of course, but within the expectations that we all have.
Voytek: Yeah, that’s sort of like high-level recruiting, like when you recruit a high-level employee you need to have some experience on how to make sure that they are the right candidate, and that they will do their work correctly.
Rafał: I would take this even further. I totally agree with what Mikołaj said, but part of the education is also defining the area of responsibility. So this is the way we work as well: we communicate that each stage ends with something specific. And if, for instance, we do work on only the conceptual designs, the clients should be also aware that he cannot expect that if he’s going to continue the work on his own or with other people for the next stages, or he’s going to make different decisions that we would do, he cannot expect that the end result is going to be— Well, we cannot take the responsibility for the end result if we do not participate in the process along the way. So I guess, defining our responsibility works best and it simply raises the awareness of the client, what he or she should expect from us, for this part of the trip.
Mikołaj: There is an exercise in project management called the MoSCoW method. It’s really difficult to fill in if you are trying to define these requirements because there are “must haves”, “nice to haves”, “should haves” and “won’t haves”. So these “won’t haves” are the most important, probably because here in this little table, you define what this product doesn’t do, because we always tend to over define our product. If we take our time together and define which functions are not important, then it really simplifies our job and the expectations get more realistic, in my opinion. This is a good exercise to have, once we are starting a project.
Voytek: Sounds like something that would be very difficult for those suffering with the curse of the 2.0. The tendency to, like you said, over develop or plan way too many features at the very beginning of developing.
Mikołaj: Oh, yes, especially in the fast paced market as we have today. It’s better to define a simpler product, but which performs their function well.
Voytek: So, educating your clients and yourselves and the people you work with, externally, it boils down to enhancing or optimizing communication in a way, but I guess that’s not just it. What would you say, for you, why it’s worth it to put in the effort of educating yourself through others and others, whether they are willing or not?
Rafał: So, yeah, being a company which has been present in the market for 18 years now, I guess, we could say that we are quite certain of certain methods. It’s good to set up standards for others to follow, maybe. This is one of the reasons that we, for instance, do this podcast: this is part of the passive education that we are trying to do to raise the awareness not only of the clients, but also of the industry of maybe competition that is following us, that is looking for certain ways. I think that beginner designers could also benefit from listening to others who have some knowledge to share, and, I guess, this is part of the reasons, for sure.
Voytek: Okay. For you, Mikołaj, is it only communication?
Mikołaj: Communication is just a means of doing things, it helps a lot. I tend to say that communication in a project is the most important factor for achieving the goal. Because if we just read the document that we got, and do all the things that were in the document without any consultation between each side of the contract, we will probably end up in definitely bad moods, because we would deliver something that wasn’t in the minds of clients. We would be completely sure that we have done a really great job. But the end result would definitely not be the thing that we had agreed on, something expected. By communicating, we simply give ourselves a space to understand each other and achieve our goals together. Because of course, each of us has some goals on the project. To sum up, I think it simply makes life easier: to communicate efficiently and, we switched from education to communication, but it is rather the same and that understanding. If we can say simply about sophisticated topics to our listeners, to our interlocutors, I think that it is a benefit for both sides. I always like to listen to people who speak about really difficult topics in a way that I can or at least think I can understand them. So this is my Holy Grail of communication: speaking about our topic that we are experts in in a way that everyone else thinks it’s quite an easy task.
Voytek: I guess that’s a good summary, basically. So I will raise my glass of water and here’s to making life easier.
Voytek: Cheers. Thank you, guys.
Rafał: Thank you.
Mikołaj Wiewióra is an industrial designer and project manager at Mindsailors, with over 7 years of experience as a designer.
Rafal Pilat is an entrepreneur and co-founder of Mindsailors, an awarded industrial design company, with over 18 years of experience as a designer himself.
Voytek Holysz is the COO of Mindsailors with 15 years of experience in running a business in creative B2B services, marketing, sales and video production.
IDology #14 - How educating your environment makes you a better designer
Schedule an initial talk and get to know us better! You already have a basic brief? Send it over so we can have a more productive first meeting!