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  • 04.05.11

Hocus Pocus With a Design Focus

Chocked full of intriguing and sometimes candid revelations, the book “Predictable Magic” will appeal to anyone interested in reading about the success and sustained success of design projects.

Chocked
full of intriguing and sometimes candid revelations, the book Predictable Magic will appeal to anyone interested in reading
about the success and sustained success of design projects. Co-written by Ravi Sawhney,
a designer and head of the well-known West coast design firm RKS Design, and
Deepa Prahalad, a consumer experience expert, business strategist and daughter
of the renowned author C.K. Prahalad, these two have assembled a robust set of
case studies and stories. They include a few techniques and tools for ensuring
successful designs, as well. The points of view of both–designer and strategist–underscore
the content, making for an interesting play of perspectives.

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There
is much to like about this book. Prahalad and Sawhney have crafted a thoroughly
enjoyable reading experience, although the book’s title may over promise a
touch. Anyone looking for a secret formula will instead find a simple yet
powerful method, or better said, combination of methods. Like any great recipe,
RKS uses a series of familiar ingredients and then adds a twist or two to
create what the firm has branded as a “Psycho-Aesthetic” approach to designing
products. The “magic” in the title, refers to design results and design itself,
which often can seem magical, especially if the solution to a problem is
something that previously did not exist.

The
authors introduce us to the RKS way of creating product designs. The methods
first include personas, an adaptation of a tool made popular by noted
consultant Alan Cooper (one of my personal heroes), who is appropriately
acknowledged in the book. Personas provide empathy and understanding of users and consumer
experiences as a foundation to the Psycho-Aesthetic method. The next step is a
four-square mapping technique used to determine white-space product
opportunities, a common technique made unusual here by the overlapping of two
maps to determine the opportunity zone. A clever idea, the maps measure a
version of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs against what RKS calls interactivity. These
kind of maps are most meaningful when informed by cross-functional teams,
although actual consumer feedback is the best way to ensure the conclusions are
legitimate.

The
book contains many RKS projects and Predictable Magic does serve as a bit of an
advertisement for the firm, but the book does not pretend differently, and the
cases are informative. For instance, the initial success and eventual end of
RKS Guitars as an entrepreneurial venture are outlined in an interesting and
unvarnished way. And the KOR water bottle is forward thinking and a great
example of what dimensions product designs need account for in order to be competitive
today. This design dared to enter a crowded market and succeeded spectacularly,
even with the constraints and many facets that have become the baseline in
products today, such as sustainability, materials use and social
responsibility.

Finally,
the Psycho-Aesthetics approach concludes with an adaptation of Joseph Campbell’s
seminal “hero’s journey” work, a classic storytelling narrative that Prahalad
and Sawhney use as “the path to empowering consumers.” While it was not
entirely clear how RKS has adapted this classic form, the firm’s spin on it is
interesting; we can all use help telling better stories and creating heroes in
our customers as well as our cross-functional partners–always a good idea for a
business. It leads to the elixir, what RKS calls “engaging emotionally” to
create true consumer advocates.

In the
end the thing I valued most about Predictable Magic is that it does what I always
hope for; it reveals more about how design happens than is usually found in
such books, which is refreshing. If you are a designer, this book could help
you find a new technique or two. If you just like to read about design, well it
does a pretty good job of that also.

About the author

Mark Dziersk is Managing Director of LUNAR in Chicago. LUNAR is one of the world’s top strategic design, engineering and branding firms.

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