MEREDITH Strategy + Design

We design the places and spaces where people come together to do great work

Moving design from object to system

Well, again, the workload has slowed down my ability to get things written and out there. So, as before, I'll post a few morsels from other places while I get back to a normal schedule.

First of these is this reflection from Helen Walters, who works with Doblin. She was digging around in their archives and found a great article by Jay Doblin on the "Seven Levels of Design." I hope she doesn't mind a substantial quote here –

...In it, he lays out how the changing levels of design give different opportunities to innovate, and uses the redesign of a gas pump as an example. Check this out:

  • LEVEL 1: The designer accepts the pump’s performance but shortens and cleans up its form.
  • LEVEL 2: Performance improvements are made. Either money, gallonage, or fillip can be punched directly. Inserted credit card automatically bills the customer.
  • LEVEL 3: Changes the basic mechanism. The station is like a parking lot where hoses are pulled from trap doors below ground. All the controls are on the nozzle.
  • LEVEL 4: Involves products which are outside the company’s control. No liquid fuel is pumped; pressurized cartridges are inserted into the car. One cartridge fits all cars (like sealed beam headlamps), a one-price sale.
  • LEVEL 5: The service performed is changed; there are no more gas stations. Fuel cartridges are bought anywhere, like beer.
  • LEVEL 6: The service is eliminated; cars never need refueling, they run indefinitely on atomic power.
  • LEVEL 7: Transportation is eliminated; all human contact is by telecommunications.

So, apart from making me wish I’d had the chance to meet Jay, what does this mean? Well, it means that 35 years ago, designers were thinking about increasing their scope from object to system, about how to elevate themselves from beyond providing the superficial aesthetic appeal of a product to considering its strategic consequences, even its point of existence. And honestly I think it’s telling and somewhat depressing that we’re still struggling with this whole discussion today.

Thanks, Helen!