Nest CEO and new Google Glass boss Tony Fadell shares three tips to start 'seeing invisible problems'

Tony Fadell is known as something of a design guru in Silicon Valley.

He led the launch of Apple’s first iPod and founded the smart thermostat company, Nest, that Google bought for $US3.2 billion last year. Most recently, he was tapped to oversee the second generation of the severely design-challenged wearable Google Glass.

Fadell shared his mantra for innovation at a recent TED conference.

“It’s seeing the invisible problem, not just the obvious problem, that’s important,” Fadell said onstage. “There are invisible problems all around us. First we need to see them. To feel them. Then we can solve them.”

It’s too easy to internalize and ignore these “little idiotic details,” he says. For example, the first time you bought an apple from the store store, it might have annoyed you that you had to remove that little sticker on it before eating. But that annoyance completely fades away once you’ve done it enough times — the problem becomes invisible.

Rooting out these issues is the key to good, innovative design. Fadell offered three tips to avoid falling into the trap of internalizing the patterns that should be viewed as problematic:

Look broader

Consider an entire process — start to finish — to see the bigger picture ideas that need improving. “Using this approach, Fadell’s team at Nest improved thermostat design by incorporating an algorithm to predict user’s temperature preferences and save energy,” the TED blog explains.

Look closer

At the same time, make sure to also focus in on the tiny details. Fadell said that he spent months agonizing over which screw to use to make the Nest thermostat as easy to install as possible.

Think younger

Fadell says that having young team members with “young minds” who will ask big, creative questions, is an incredible asset. You need people with a childlike sense of possibility to find better ways to solve problems.

Fadell will have to take his own advice as he tries to figure out how to make the next version of Google Glass more appealing to the average person.

Meanwhile, Nest’s products have run into some issues of their own. The company had to fix some major safety issues with its smoke detectors last year and a Google employee recently posted a nightmarish video of his detectors’ alarms refusing to turn off. He ultimately called it a “terrible, buggy product.”

If you’ve ever worked with Fadell (at Apple or Google) and have a story to share, we’d love to hear it via [email protected]

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