• 3 minute Read

Tough Love, and More Design Advice You Don’t Want to Hear (But Should)

This week, Stuart Karten will be answering your most pressing innovation inquiries and design dilemmas.

stuart advice

Dear Stuart,

We started casually dating a design firm and we are having a good experience, but now they want to be exclusive and I feel we’re moving too fast. What do you make of it?

Wanting to stop,
Puttin’ on the Brakes

Dear P on the B,

If I had to guess, they started asking penetrating questions about other aspects of your product–maybe packaging, user interface, a Web page or instructions. Am I right?

An outsider’s desire to know more about you and your company can feel threatening, but this probing should not be misinterpreted as the drive towards exclusivity. This designer is just trying to understand the whole experience of using your products. Their interest should be fostered, not looked upon negatively. Having a great product is no longer enough to capture your customers’ hearts and minds–it’s all about the full experience. Loosen up a little bit and see where it goes.



Dear Stuart,

Sometimes I know the right way to do things, but rather than listen to me, my designer insists on doing it his (wrong) way. Why can’t he understand that I know what I’m talking about?

Not Trying to be Bossy

Dear NTTB Bossy,

Please do not take offense when it seems that your designer is ignoring your valuable advice. The truth is designers possess a special magical sense that detects opportunity for innovation in previously overlooked places. This sense only functions when the holder is encountering a new problem for the first time. Let’s call designers “Innovation Fishermen.” Innovations are like smart fish: you’re not gonna catch ’em in the same place twice. You need to keep moving and trying new things. What was right yesterday might not catch the biggest fish today!



Dear Stuart,

I met a great potential client and we really hit it off. I took him through a custom presentation and we even went out for drinks. I thought we had a real connection, but I haven’t heard from him since. I’ve been checking my e-mail every few minutes and I even called the phone company to make sure all our phone lines were working. Do you think maybe he was hit by a bus and that’s why he hasn’t called?

Heartsick and Hoping

Dear Heartsick,

I’m going to give you some cold hard truth. The reason he hasn’t called is…he’s just not that into working with you.

I’m sure that you’re a wonderful designer; you shouldn’t get discouraged about this situation. Maybe he just wasn’t ready to get involved, maybe he found another designer who seemed more compatible. Whatever the case, it’s time to pick yourself up and move on because this one just wasn’t meant to be.

And by the way, the odds of him getting hit by a bus are about as low as the odds that you’re wearing any color besides black right now.


Got a burning question for Stuart? Leave it in the comments and we’ll be sure to get it answered.

Illustration by Greg Clarke.

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For 25
years, Stuart Karten Design (SKD) has been a strategic partner to
companies seeking to differentiate their products through creativity
and design. Connecting creativity with commerce, SKD designs products
that serve as brand ambassadors for its clients and lead to greater
market share and increased profit. SKD’s team includes 25 includes
designers, researchers and mechanical engineers who can guide a product
from design conceptualization through final production. SKD is
especially renowned for its medical products and its ear-centric
devices, which have included communication headsets for Jabra and
Plantronics, the Zōn hearing aid for Starkey Laboratories and
noise-cancelling ear buds for Ultimate Ears.

SKD has been
the recipient of numerous awards, including IDEA, Red Dot, iF, Good
Design and the I.D. Annual Design Review. Conceptual “Epidermits
Interactive Pet” was a part of Museum of Modern Art’s recent Design and
the Elastic Mind exhibition. In 2008,
Fast Company magazine
named SKD among America’s top five “Design Factories” in its annual
Masters of Design issue. Located near the beach in Marina del Rey, SKD
is tapped into the cutting edge culture that defines Los Angeles with
our fingers on the pulse of the trends that will affect the nation.

About the author

Stuart Karten is the Founder and President of Los Angeles-based product innovation consultancy [url=http://kartendesign.com/]Karten Design[/url]. Since 1984, he has partnered with medical device, digital health, and consumer product manufacturers to build their businesses through design.