What I do

What I do is…design.

I think the most fun a person can have is designing something useful. This is wide open territory, because this can encompass almost anything you care to look at. Whether high-tech or low, there is always a need to solve problems.

It can be as simple as establishing that there is a real problem and that someone is willing to pay or provide an exchange for solving it. In this simplest case, you solve it as effectively as possible with the resources you can pull together. If you have sized up the problem properly and have arranged for an adequate exchange, you make a little money. You are pleased and the customer is pleased.

Your success depends almost entirely on getting agreement on what solving the customer’s problem means for him and what you get as a result. For me, this means applying all of my skills to come up with a solution that works for both of us.

The biggest lesson I learned, over and over again, is that success as a designer depends almost entirely on marketing skill, not on technical skill. I worked for too many companies that developed incredibly brilliant solutions for problems that only a few people cared about.

For too many years I scoffed at the incredibly inefficient and overpriced solutions sold in great volume by IBM. As an engineer, I totally missed the fact that IBM was delivering solutions that were easy for their customers to justify buying. I finally got the message. Find out what the customer wants and can buy, then build it.

I design and manufacture custom wood products now instead of computer systems, but the priorities are still the same; marketing first, design second. There are many interesting product ideas that I plan to implement, but I look for everyday problems that I can solve in unique ways for people who want something different.

Fortunately this niche is large enough to provide immediate business from local customers. Selecting this niche also sidesteps the inevitable competition from foreign manufacturers who deliver finished hardwood furniture for less than I can buy select lumber.

I feel extremely fortunate to be doing something I enjoy. The fact that I have a growing number of satisfied customers is icing on the cake.

I have people approaching me almost every week, saying, “I’ve always wanted to work with wood! It must so great!”

It is.

I’ll be discussing some actual design and business considerations in future posts. Handling the challenges of getting a product built is right out the top of creative activity. Hope you’ll join me for the fun.

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