Tell me a bit about yourself beyond what’s available on your site.
I’ve worked in the outdoor industry for a decade, designing camping products of all kinds, and most of my work is in the area of consumer products. I do some medical, some commercial, some industrial—but most of it is consumer products. I also do front-end strategy consulting. How do you figure out what you’re going to do for your product line? How does design fit into your business strategy as a whole? I also do strategy beyond design. How do you get everybody in your company to align around a common focus, to understand it, and how can you articulate it to get the work done?
Why did you choose industrial design?
Initially, the appeal was working with my hands. I’m a creator. I like to make things. When I discovered industrial design, I thought, “I can’t believe someone would pay you to do that.” It’s a combination of problem solving, visual creation, and hands-on work, which is the ultimate package for me. I love to solve meaningful problems. Problem solving is the thing, and industrial design is a way to do it that is concrete and tactile, which is satisfying for me. As my career evolves, I’m also more and more interested in strategic problem solving.
I picked Delicious because it uses an outside metaphor to describe what I think is important about a good design. It satisfies you. It appeals to your senses. There’s no delicious in design. You can’t have a design that tastes good. The name bucks convention, but it still establishes that a design should be pleasing to your palate—visually, tactilely, experientially. In that sense, making delicious food and making good design have a lot in common.
Also, when I looked at all the other design firm names out there, I noticed they are very masculine sounding. In my business, I work with a lot of women in powerful positions, and I wanted something that was gender neutral if not even feminine sounding, specifically so that I was more approachable. It turns out it makes a difference. I’m not trying to pander to women as much as I’m trying to disassociate myself with the overly masculinized field of design. It’s mostly men in the field. I wanted to do something different. My approach to design is very not masculine in a lot of ways, and I wanted a name to reflect that.
What inspires you?
The simple answer is that I’m always looking for new ways to solve design problems. Possibility is what motivates and inspires me. I’ve never seen the same thing done the same way twice. I’ve never done the same design two times in a row. The variety keeps me engaged.
What frustrates you?
The design process is really removed from the end result. One of the things I like least about design is that it’s two years between when I’ve disengaged and when the product hits the market. Not only am I removed from my end customers by an entire process, but I’m also removed from the feedback loop by time and space. By the time a product hits the market, it’s old news to me, and it’s brand new to someone else. I like more immediate return on the work. The short-term feedback I receive is from my clients, but my clients are seldom the end users. Ultimately, the user is the audience.
How does product lifecycle management affect your design work?
Design for disassembly—cradle to grave—is always taken into account. It’s not the first conversation that I typically have with a client, but we definitely have the conversation. What do we do at the end of lifecycle? How are we reclaiming this? How are we designating parts for recycling, or disposal, or reuse? I think it’s still heavily driven by cost. It’s the hair shirt argument. No one wants to wear the hair shirt because it’s uncomfortable. If you can make it appealing in some way, then it becomes a compelling feature. I think everybody would like to do it if it came at either zero cost or an increase in profits, but no one wants to do it if it costs money.
Increasingly, as I become more advanced in my field, understanding the subtleties of PLM—like how things get shipped and the costs of shipping—becomes more important. I’m working on a project now that is essentially a cylinder. Right now, we’re shipping the most expensive air in the world. But if we can ship it flat and assemble it into a cylinder at delivery, we save a lot of money. Designing for cost savings in shipping is difficult but it can be done.
How do you discover new products?
I do my own research. I read a lot of blogs—tech blogs, product blogs—any blog that’s related to an area of interest I have. I have a personal interest in just about everything on some level. My interest isn’t just professional, it’s personal, and I think that drives my product design. I’m interested in ideas, something new, ways in which someone else is solving a problem—especially a problem I might have. It’s one part being a maven and one part doing research, but I never think of it as research. I chase new ideas down because I’m curious about them.
What are the latest design trends you’ve noticed?
In terms of visual trends, the faceted “low polygon” look—everything being a triangle—that started a few years ago, and is still going. This isn’t a new trend, but if there’s an element that has visual continuity to it, it’s everywhere. In terms of what design is doing with that—surface texturing is huge. Everything now has a complex surface texture. Not just a matte finish, or a glossy finish, or a simple texture, but some interesting, organic pattern that may or may not be repeating. I think the prevalence of computers in every aspect of our lives is driving expectations. It’s a part of the vernacular now. The elements of technology are built into the language of everything. Video game assets—video game anything—is playing in, too. Highly militarized, a lot of angles, very sharp edges—it’s showing up in products all over the place. The crossover between video games and reality is happening. It’s mostly a younger audience, but we all understand the appeal. But it’s not lasting. It won’t hold up. It’s busy for the sake of looking complex and technical.
In outdoor [products], those trends are different. I’m not sure I could identify a single thread in that space. It’s more about color trends. There are groups that dictate or establish colors trends for a season, and everyone follows along. In every industry, I think a few key companies establish themselves as trend leaders, and everyone else just follows along. Until someone bucks it.
What has staying power?
Simplicity always wins. Simplicity will always have a place. Less is truly more. If you can make a design cleaner and easier to understand—better for the user to interact with—if you can do that in fewer moves, you have a more timeless product. Those products visually tend to outlast something that chases the latest trend.
Predict the next “must have” products.
Wearables that only react or monitor are done. If you’re using wearables that only track you, you’re getting half the story. Wearables that assist you are about to become a valuable thing. The current players are beginning to scratch the surface of that.
Technology in everything. I fight that, but it’s true. Whatever product you have, if it doesn’t have data, it’s not as useful or interesting. As technology becomes cheaper it becomes more ubiquitous. You can put a computer in a wall outlet or a USB plug. You can monitor something at all times. Getting the data seems to be the big thing.
This is geeky and esoteric, but I’m really interested in home automation. The majority of products that are out there are adequate, but not thorough. They don’t tell a full story for me, and they are designed for homeowners—not for mobile people, apartment dwellers, or nomads. I think products like Philips hue are interesting in conjunction with websites like IFTTT. I think Philips stumbled into a niche where they made their products compatible with IFTTT, and now they have a user base they wouldn’t otherwise have. People are essentially creating their own actions. They’re programming their own lifestyles.
In addition to being a designer, you’re a musician. So, how do you discover new music?
I use various feeds, like Hype Machine, that are crowdsourced, and I listen to what’s happening there. I don’t use Pandora. I rarely use things where the algorithm is selecting something for me. Algorithms give you something along a linear thread. That isn’t how people listen to music in the first place. User-driven music feeds better represent how we actually listen to music.
Josh Buesseler has been designing products that users fall in love with for over a decade. As founder and principal of Delicious, he has created products for diverse activities and environments—from alpine summits to home kitchens. Drawing from his experience as a consultant and as an in-house designer, his strategy-driven, collaborative approach builds bridges between marketing and engineering. His passion for creating innovative, brand-defining experiences helps clients turn one-time challenging risks into repeatable successes.