Harvard xDesign Conference
Post by Melissa Tong ’18
This year’s conference focused on “productive failure” and the ways it inspires and challenges designers and how design processes improve to overcome different types of failures. Designers of different backgrounds, education levels, and industries came together with students to engage in and reinterpret the design process.
Speakers represented a wide range of companies from Pentogram, Pepsi, NEA, and Etsy. Each touched on unique aspects of failure that appear when embarking on a project and the many learning experiences and lessons derived from them. We discussed Tropicana’s move from a nostalgic, iconic logo of a straw inserted into an orange to a modern, sleek juice container that customers didn’t connect well with, which resulted in a marketing failure that cost them millions. Failure pops out from all angles of the design process. It could be a failure in product design, in customer orientation, or in communication, among many others. The overlooking and inability to identify and attend to failure rolls over to grander mistakes, some of which can cost millions in recalls and liabilities, both of which can lead to reputation damage.
Each speaker had a unique perspective on failure and delivered their talks in various manners. One talk that stood out to me comes from a professor at the School of Visual Arts. He presented some of his student’s projects as a means to demonstrate failure. One is the misuse of design. The professor assigns his students to design a product that does evil and harm to society. He then has the students modify the product so it does good for society while building on the fundamentals. Furthermore, the students carry out this product through product prototyping, branding, marketing, and executing. While many people are close-minded and wish to make the next best product, it is important to iterate many ideas, reiterate, and practice. We learn from our failures and by constantly identifying and solving problems, following through with the whole process from shaping the problem to creating a market presence to branding techniques to building supplier engagement etc., we can sharpen our skills and enhance our abilities.
Speakers repetitively touched on the overarching theme of taking action, doing, and learning from failure. Many dedicate their successes to failure whether personal or otherwise. Fail fast and fail often. This event was particularly inspiring because to talk about failure, each speaker must reflect and create context, illustrate the circumstance, describe their mindset. Hearing the many self-reflections and the idiosyncratic paths that each guest speaker set on because of their failures and life’s obstacles, I became motivated and excited. Many successful people came out that day to inspire a crowd of students, graduates, and designers. Thank you to the Undergraduate Professional Accelerator Fund for making my attendance at this conference possible!