Louis Sullivan, a famed Chicago architect, once said that “form ever follows function.” His statement firmly asserted his belief that the way a building looks should be determined by its purpose. Over time, this principle was applied beyond buildings to automobiles and many household objects, from tea kettles to can openers. Sound functional design is a nod to the people who will actually use an item, creating features in response to customers’ stated and interpreted needs. As Steve Jobs famously told Business Week in 1997, “A lot of times, people don't know what they want until you show it to them.”
Dom Sciamanna, Product Development Manager at Fres-co System USA, Inc., has been responding to consumers’ needs over the course of his career. For example, he worked in consumer products at W. L. Gore & Associates, Inc., a manufacturing company that is best known as the developer of waterproof, breathable Gore-Tex® fabrics. He found that the voice of the customer (VOC) subtly affected the ways he approached his profession.
“The VOC can change your sensibilities,” he explains. “Once you understand their unmet needs and priorities, you begin to realize how function and ease of use should influence design. Before fully vetting and understanding that input, you may think only in terms of function.”
Sciamanna cites the concept known as “Quality Function Deployment” (QFD), a principle that was first outlined by quality expert Dr. Yoji Akao. A cofounder of QFD, Akao stated that QFD is instrumental to ensuring that VOC appropriately influences design. Sciamanna also subscribes to this method for satisfying customers by hearing their concerns and engineering their needs into the final product design.