Learning Decision Making from Alessi

Explaining the decision making skills of a professional or experienced manager to newcomers to the role, is one of the most difficult challenges I face as a learning designing, and the most satisfying when it is done well. Long ago, I learned that people are frustrated when they hear “it depends” but that’s usually what experienced people offer as an answer.  So even though it’s true – good decisions do depend on assessing a number of factors in the situation – the key is to simplify those factors, without creating simplistic formulae that don’t actually work.

A recent Fast Company article describes how  Alberto Alessi, the Head of the Alessi design house, analysed over 300 of his “gut feel” decisions to create a mathematical model he called “The Formula”, which predicts the reaction (i.e. likely buying volumes) of customers.

The Formula, as described in the article, is a typical sort of decision matrix (grid).  Alessi started with two parameters – “SMI” which attempts to assess the beauty of the design piece and “communication language” which attempts to assess the ability of the object to communicate a value or meaning.    These two parameters were not sufficient to distinguish the successes from the fiascos, so he added two extra parameters, function and price.

When questioned about The Formula’s accuracy, Alessi responded that it is very accurate for product types where Alessi has an existing product and experience.  When they face a new product type, there is more room for error and they need experience to fine tune it.

What I like most about this example is that common decision making processes can be successfully applied to an aesthetically-based product.

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