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Developing Resilient Products – Resiliently

By Daniel Paris – Product Development Manager

Sustainability, design-thinking, and blockchain are all hot topics within the design and development community. But what do they mean to a manager in a large company struggling to get results from their development teams, or to a contract developer whose livelihoods depend upon their reputation and on-going quality of work? In a word, resilience.


Products that demonstrate resilience both ‘withstand’ and ‘adapt’ to external physical, psychological, and social forces [1]. It is this essence of adaptability that differentiates resilience from durability. Haug [1] focuses on sustainability in terms of the problem of product replacement and goes on to explain the many intrinsic (physical) and extrinsic (non-physical) aspects of resilience. A perhaps unusual example of which may be the ubiquitous little black dress  Which, while being a garment,  and subject to fashion trends, maintains resilience against these extrinsic forces by maintaining a fashion-neutral colour and cut, and to intrinsic forces by including integrated labelling to aid in garment care and longevity.


However, product resilience is only part of the picture. The resilience of the enterprise and its support systems driving these product developments are no less important. A Royal Dutch Shell study [2], identified four key characteristics for resilient organisations: tolerance of diversity (decentralisation), cohesion and sense of identity, conservative use of capital, and sensitivity and adaptability to the business environment. One such example of such an organisation is Toyota. While also being the ‘New Product Development’ poster child, Toyota respectively maintains a decentralised, internally-competitive development centre structure [3], maintains a profound sense of identity rooted within the Japanese culture, and applies delayed capital expenditure as part of its Learning First Product Development process. Toyota is also comfortable in dramatically re-configuring its sales channels [4] and issuing safety recalls [5] despite the potential consequences, figure 1 [6].

Profitable Product Development - Toyota Example
Figure 1: Toyota profit over the last 20 years [6]
And what of the web that links this all together, the people? Resilience in the workforce is touted as being nurtured within environments that acknowledge failure as a key trade-off to cadence. With the objective of being a culture that encourages cadence in the face of failure [7]. Fortunately, designers often have another quiver in their bow. User empathy. While some of you may be rolling your eyes at this now over-used term, consider the following scenario by way of a story:


Brian’s Blockchain

 A developer, Sue, has been excitedly working herself into a frenzy over the last month on a whiz-bang new product. She has assumption mapping, knowledge gathering, and ergonomics research under her belt. Has conducted user interviews and created personas (her favourite Brian, is a grizzled forklift driver near retirement who can’t afford the more expensive bang-whiz products of competitors). She’s also completed empathy and journey mapping together with point- of-view and opportunity statements, and along with her team at Big-Bang Products, has ideated the whiz out of the whiz-bang. In fact, she’s pressed the go button on the 3D printer. In terms of best practice, she knows she’d crossed all her t’s and dotted all her I’s. This makes Sue happy.


 Just then, Sue’s boss, Lynn, walks in and tells her that someone’s just sent through a link for an app from a start-up, Bang O’Whiz, that does everything that the whiz-bang was supposed to do – albeit with more whiz than bang. Sue looks down at the printer forlornly. ‘How much does the app cost?’ she asks Lynn. ‘Only $17.95. There’s a free whiz-only version too.’ says Lynn. ‘Well, at least Brian will be stoked.’ finished Sue as she shrugs her shoulders. That night Sue has an extra-large glass of wine.


One month after Big-Bang Products cancelled the whiz-bang it purchased Bang O’Whiz outright. Sue now heads up Big-Bang Products’ new app division. Two months later, Sue visits Brian. Brian is pretty stoked with his new whiz-bang app. Brian tells all of his friends that it uses blockchain and that blockchain makes it resilient [8]. They all laugh at Brian because he doesn’t really know what blockchain is – and neither do they.


In our story, Sue demonstrates an additional dimension of resilience independent of the product’s own intrinsic or extrinsic resilience. Sue’s own resilience has been intrinsically supported by the process used within her company to develop products (user empathy). Moreover, the company itself displays corporate-resilience, in that it had funds available, and acted quickly to a changing business environment.


If you are interested in learning more about Resilient Product Development don’t hesitate to give me a call. At Motovated Design & Analysis we practice what we preach. Have a look at our own Leon Daly’s Better by Analysis™ presentation during MaD 2018.




[1] Haug, A. (2016). Design of resilient consumer products. 2016 Design Research Society, 50th Anniversary Conference, 27-30 June 2016, Brighton, UK. Retrieved from

[2] Fiskel, J. (2003). Designing Resilient, Sustainable Systems. Environ. Sci. Technol., 37, 5330-5339. Retrieved from

[3] Cusumano, M. Nobeoka, K. (1998). Thinking Beyond Lean. New York, USA: The Free Press.






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