Building a Better Train to Brooklyn

Rosanna lives in Brooklyn so I take the train a lot.

More specifically, I take the 6 train to Union Square. Then at Union Square I transfer to the L train which brings me from Manhattan to Brooklyn.

A few days ago I was walking to catch L when I started thinking: how could I build a better train to Brooklyn?

As you might imagine, this isn’t a simple question to answer. The problem is huge. You’re not just designing trains – you’re designing stations, signage, schedules – a whole system. I don’t even know much about trains – it seems like I couldn’t get very far.

If I wanted to design a better train I might do something like the following:

First I would think about the trains that I take every day. I would think about all of their features and start writing them down because I would probably need those features in my train as well.

I’d write down the name of the train. The way its logo looks. I’d write down how its seats look, and maybe estimate how many passengers could fit in each car. I’d think about what the railings will look like for people to hang on to when they’re standing on a crowded train.

After copying the basics I might add a few new features – twists on the traditional train concept that will make my train different: What about if, instead of sliding out, the doors, like, slid up when they opened? Kind of like one of those DeLoreans. These will be my key differentiators from other trains out there on the market.

Then I’d start sending out emails with phrases like, “Groundbreaking,” “Innovative,” “Dent in the universe,” and my personal favorite, “All I need is to find someone to build it for me.”

I know this is a tempting way to go about it because I have done this. And I’d be willing to bet most anyone who has ever tried to build a product has done it too.

The problem is: it doesn’t work.  If you’re working alone you feel lost a lot. It feels like there’s a huge gulf between what you’re trying to accomplish and the tools you have to accomplish it.

If you’re working as part of a team you tend having long, heated arguments about which features to include that are mostly won by the person who’s most convincing – not the person who’s right.

So, obviously we need a better way to figure out questions like:

How do I decide which features to include in my product and which ones to leave out? How do I know if one of the new features I’ve come up with is a good idea?

That’s what I’m going to talk about in this blog post. What I want to do is explain exactly what’s wrong with the process I described above. Then I’m going to propose a better way of looking at things to make designing high quality products easier (but not easy.)

Then I’m actually going to show you how you might start building a better train to Brooklyn. Continue Reading

22 Feb 2015, 8:23pm | 16 comments


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