When it comes to design and leading industries, we like to think it’s the amazing that wins the day. But there are great examples from the history of invention, and design, that point in the other direction.
Sometimes the simple, cheap and reliable, if you can pull it off, is what the market and your customers, truly need. If I asked you what is the greatest selling powered vehicle of all time, what would you say?
I doubt you’d think it was this: the Honda Super Cub motorcycle. It has sold 60 million units (according to Honda at least), and has had the same basic design for 50 years. It’s durable, affordable and easy to fix.
While I’d never suggest the best selling design equates to being the best, it certainly puts it in the running. I believe if people studied why unexpectedly successful designs, like the Super Cub or the AK47, they’d understand what people actually need and how to make it (See Good beats Innovative, on BusinessWeek)
Some things you can learn from the Super-Cub:
- People often over-estimate their needs. Much like the history of the VW Beetle, doing the core things people need very well is rare. And if you can market it right, as VW did for the bug in America, you can dominate markets with simplicity.
- A set of small inefficiencies can create a larger efficiency. The Super Cub doesn’t have the best engine, or tires, or handling. But because those things are simple designs, are easy to repair, and simple to use, the gestalt of the overall product is efficient to use and manage.
- Small markets can provoke designs that do well in large markets. The history of OXO Good Grips is they were trying to design kitchen tools for people with arthritis and other co-ordination issues. The discovered later their designs were valuable to everyone.
Can you think of other inexpensive and simple designs that outperform their competitors?
Related: Lessons from the AK-47