To err is designer
A few days ago, Sweden opened one of the most unique establishments in the world – The Museum of Failure, a place that celebrates the greatest failures in innovation. Touted as the mecca of creativity, Sweden has always been at the forefront of astounding innovation. Thus, it should come as no surprise that the country has managed to sweep us off our feet with yet another brilliant contribution. The reason behind this one-of-a-kind institution is linked to founder, Samuel West’s strong belief that we glorify success so tremendously, that we often end up demonizing failure. And the more I think about this, the more I realize how true it is!
In 1853, a customer at a New York restaurant kept complaining that the French fries being served to him were too thick. Chef George Crum, made a thinner batch, but the customer was still unsatisfied. Crum finally made fries that were too thin to eat with a fork, hoping to annoy the extremely fussy diner. Surprisingly enough, the customer fell in love with the dish and that’s how potato chips were born. But what if George Crum hadn’t failed the first time around? What if the world’s most loved snack had not been invented? Would we be living in a world without potato chips?
The design industry is not unfamiliar with the perils of failure. We research and research and research with the hope that our design emerges flawless. We spend hours trying to perfect every element because it’s better to learn from others' mistakes than make our own. Admitting we’ve made an error equals being in the eye of the storm and that’s a place no designer wants to be. We’re all afraid of the aftermath, not realizing that our mistakes reveal what consumers really think and more importantly, how resilient a brand is.
When GAP rebranded itself in 2010, it was met with tremendous backlash. Customers hated the new design, calling it strange and unoriginal. Instead of pushing the concept further, GAP immediately withdrew the new logo and reinstated the old design. While this cost the company millions, it also showed the world that when its customers speak, GAP is willing to listen. Although unsuccessful at first, this experiment allowed the brand to understand its audience better and that’s never a bad thing! Take the opposite outcome of another rebranding exercise. In 2016, Instagram revamped its entire look, introducing a new logo, interface and experience. The new look received millions of negative reviews, but not once did the company think to revert to its old design. Cut to a year later, the app has more subscribers than ever with record-breaking content being created each day. Had Instagram listened to the criticism surrounding its new design, we would never have familiarized ourselves with the beauty of its new experience. This experiment with Instagram proves that what initially seems erroneous might actually be a blessing in disguise. When we make mistakes, we learn from them and thereby, we grow. And more often than not, the things we think are massive blunders are probably just norms waiting to be broken.
So, go ahead, make that mistake. “Ruin” that design. Defy those norms.
It’s never too late to invent your potato chip.