A group of industrial designers recently asked us for examples of products that have been designed with less mass to create a competitive advantage.  There are countless products that use less mass while delivering the same or more function.  Yet, few people see that there's a reason why products are being designed with less mass, that there's a the need for this to happen in more products and industries, or that there's tremendous business potential for those who are able to do it on a larger and more transformative scale.  First, a few examples of products that eliminate mass while delivering the same or more function. 

Interface's FLOR carpet tile design requires no adhesive, leading to major reductions in mass.  Their design is more cost effective relative to carpets of similar quality.  They've created a competitive advantage for themselves, both in terms of cost and because they've differentiated themselves in the marketplace. 

Replenish found a unique way to deliver concentrated cleaners using a packaging design that uses much less mass than competitors'.  (There are also major mass savings from shipping less water.)  Similarly, Method created an 8-times concentrated laundry detergent, meaning they can deliver the same number of clean wash loads in a bottle that uses far less mass.  Per pound of laundry, their material costs are less than that of comparable cleaners. 

You could choose any number of designs in technology.  The touchscreen eliminated the need for a keyboard, so the user gets more function in the same or smaller-sized package.  Wireless technologies deliver more benefits without the mass of wires. 

The new Microsoft Kinect eliminates the need for accessories like tennis racquets, boxing gloves, and balance boards.  Using technology, they found a virtual replacement for tons of mass.  There is less opportunity to sell peripherals, but they've differentiated themselves and the product itself is rapidly breaking sales records.

In bottled water design in this photo, the company is using the elimination of mass as a selling point, hoping the buyer will view the product as more environmentally friendly.  By eliminating mass in the design, the company is also saving on material costs.  This is a bottle of water, the bane of many environmentalists' existence, but maybe the new design can be carried over into other applications, like medicine bottles, that clearly contribute to human well-being.

It's not just product design where this is happening.  CURB has found ingenious ways to advertise without mass.  There are many new businesses that facilitate sharing, Zipcar being the most prominent. 

In each case, the motivations for the designs or innovations were somewhat different.  A designer might have been looking to reduce costs, reduce environmental impacts, reduce waste, or just create something innovative that's attractive to buyers.  But there's a common, unrecognized thread, a reason why we're seeing more and more designs that use less mass.  To meet the needs of a growing number of people and rising standards of living within an essentially closed system, we have to be able to use the least amount of resources possible to deliver the most benefits possible.  This is more than a simple matter of cutting out mass - it's easy to eliminate something, but much harder to do so while actually delivering more function, and even harder to think about how it enhances people's well-being.  But we have to deliver drastically more function, and we have to do it in every corner of our economy, in every product, service, and activity.  And businesses that do it will create a competitive advantage for themselves.      

It's harder to find dMASS examples that are truly transformative.  The leading edge is where designers or companies are looking at their products and understanding that it's not about the products, it's about the function that those products deliver.  In other words, you don't make widgets or design buildings - you deliver the benefits created by those things.  Maybe those benefits can be delivered in a different way, in a way that uses no mass or drastically less mass.  That's where we're headed.

4 Comments