How You Learn to Design Products Outside Your Own Market

When I helped co-found Pretty Knotty LLC, I knew nothing about hair ties. Now, although my hair is too short to wear hair ties at this time, I have become an expert and learned to love them. So, how did I help to design a product that I knew nothing about? I had a great team!

To design hair ties, I needed to talk to hair tie users and see what was working and what wasn’t, see how they break and why, and understand the competition, their pros and cons. I had the support of Shelly Nicholas, the President of Pretty Knotty, who has long hair and came up with the need for a better tie. I had my wife, my mom and many friends who all used hair ties and were more than willing to help. In other words, even though I didn’t have direct experience with hair ties, I had a great team who did.

On a much larger scale of someone thriving outside of their target market, Ford hired Alan Mulally from Boeing to turn their company around. Mulally had been a lifer at Boeing, who primarily builds aircraft. Although cars and airplanes are both mass produced forms of transportation, they couldn’t be farther apart. Mulally learned to adapt to a different market and brought Ford out of the red and into the green. What always stuck out to me is Mulally brought aluminum to the Ford F150 pickup truck, an innovation brought over from the airplane industry, that saved hundreds of pounds off the trucks’ weight, which allowed it to use a more efficient engine and have better MPG. The Ford F150 pickup truck has been the best-selling pickup for the last 3 decades, so to be able to improve on something so iconic is an amazing feat.

For me, designing a product outside of my target market has given me a great flexibility in product development. Now that I have helped to successfully design and developed hair ties, I am up for any design challenge that comes my way.

No person is an island, and a great team will break down any daunting task into bite-sized chunks, even if it’s as a task as unique as designing a product outside of your target market. Step out of your area of expertise. Next time you are given the opportunity to work on something outside your target market, jump into it with a great team behind you. Who knows what you will achieve!

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