The Three Reasons You’re Failing In Product Design And In Life

The Three Reasons You’re Failing In Product Design And In Life


In product design and life, the simplest explanation is usually the correct one. All too often, we contrive complex, Rube Goldberg-like reasons for why things are or are not working. These explanations serve a purpose, albeit an empty one: they pander to our ego and self-image. Individuals who are particularly intelligent also tend to like long-winded explanations because they enjoy “using their brains” and playing with complex ideas more than they enjoy simple, razor-sharp explanations. Simplicity is boring. There are too few variables. This is one of the reasons that so many apps coming out of Silicon Valley take seemingly strange, even nonsensical, turns.*

In the world of design, a product's problems can be attributed to three root causes:

1.     The product didn’t solve a real problem in people’s lives

2.     The product was too challenging to use (too complicated)

3.     The product was forgotten (and no reminder was sent)

We can unpack all three of these explanations as much as we want, which my nerdy self likes to do endlessly. But such exercises in analysis don’t necessarily add much to the fundamental insight contained in each statement, since each of these explanations consists of simple common sense. In many ways, this is the core of good product design: common sense that’s liberally applied.

These same explanations are at the heart of most personal shortcomings in our own lives. We stop exercising because it isn’t solving a tangible problem in our lives. Sure, we may look better, but if we’re not dating or dealing with a concrete, immediate health problem, it’s not immediately useful to us.

We might stop eating a Paleo diet because it’s hard to find the right food at nearby restaurants and cooking just takes too much time. In other words, it’s too challenging.

We might stop reading before bed because, in the tired blur of the evening, we forget to pick up the novel that's been in progress finish for months. We aren’t reminded.

While it’s tempting to launch into complex explanations for these personal shortcomings (“I wasn’t raised this way…”, “If only my parents…”, “I guess I just don’t value fitness…”, “I’m just not talented enough…”, etc.) we should first ask ourselves if there’s a simple reason why these things weren’t done. Could it be that these “shortcomings” are actually not shortcomings at all? It’s quite possible (and usually the case) that you didn’t read or go running because these tasks are actually not very important to you. It doesn’t solve a problem in your life. It also might be the case that you forgot to do it—we have busy lives, after all—or that what you’re asking yourself to do is too challenging for your skill level.

Whatever you do, don’t get lost in your mind and come up with convoluted explanations based on slivers of evidence excavated from your memory. We all have failures in our lives, but the causes of those failures are usually a bit simpler—and a bit less nefarious—than we think. Complex explanations make for good stories, but rarely make for good remedies.

*Don’t even get my started on the literature coming out of our universities.

Image: Steve Jurvetson / Flickr 

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For the first time, researchers appear to have effectively treated a genetic disorder by directly injecting a CRISPR therapy into patients' bloodstreams — overcoming one of the biggest hurdles to curing diseases with the gene editing technology.

The therapy appears to be astonishingly effective, editing nearly every cell in the liver to stop a disease-causing mutation.

The challenge: CRISPR gives us the ability to correct genetic mutations, and given that such mutations are responsible for more than 6,000 human diseases, the tech has the potential to dramatically improve human health.

One way to use CRISPR to treat diseases is to remove affected cells from a patient, edit out the mutation in the lab, and place the cells back in the body to replicate — that's how one team functionally cured people with the blood disorder sickle cell anemia, editing and then infusing bone marrow cells.

Bone marrow is a special case, though, and many mutations cause disease in organs that are harder to fix.

Another option is to insert the CRISPR system itself into the body so that it can make edits directly in the affected organs (that's only been attempted once, in an ongoing study in which people had a CRISPR therapy injected into their eyes to treat a rare vision disorder).

Injecting a CRISPR therapy right into the bloodstream has been a problem, though, because the therapy has to find the right cells to edit. An inherited mutation will be in the DNA of every cell of your body, but if it only causes disease in the liver, you don't want your therapy being used up in the pancreas or kidneys.

A new CRISPR therapy: Now, researchers from Intellia Therapeutics and Regeneron Pharmaceuticals have demonstrated for the first time that a CRISPR therapy delivered into the bloodstream can travel to desired tissues to make edits.

We can overcome one of the biggest challenges with applying CRISPR clinically.

—JENNIFER DOUDNA

"This is a major milestone for patients," Jennifer Doudna, co-developer of CRISPR, who wasn't involved in the trial, told NPR.

"While these are early data, they show us that we can overcome one of the biggest challenges with applying CRISPR clinically so far, which is being able to deliver it systemically and get it to the right place," she continued.

What they did: During a phase 1 clinical trial, Intellia researchers injected a CRISPR therapy dubbed NTLA-2001 into the bloodstreams of six people with a rare, potentially fatal genetic disorder called transthyretin amyloidosis.

The livers of people with transthyretin amyloidosis produce a destructive protein, and the CRISPR therapy was designed to target the gene that makes the protein and halt its production. After just one injection of NTLA-2001, the three patients given a higher dose saw their levels of the protein drop by 80% to 96%.

A better option: The CRISPR therapy produced only mild adverse effects and did lower the protein levels, but we don't know yet if the effect will be permanent. It'll also be a few months before we know if the therapy can alleviate the symptoms of transthyretin amyloidosis.

This is a wonderful day for the future of gene-editing as a medicine.

—FYODOR URNOV

If everything goes as hoped, though, NTLA-2001 could one day offer a better treatment option for transthyretin amyloidosis than a currently approved medication, patisiran, which only reduces toxic protein levels by 81% and must be injected regularly.

Looking ahead: Even more exciting than NTLA-2001's potential impact on transthyretin amyloidosis, though, is the knowledge that we may be able to use CRISPR injections to treat other genetic disorders that are difficult to target directly, such as heart or brain diseases.

"This is a wonderful day for the future of gene-editing as a medicine," Fyodor Urnov, a UC Berkeley professor of genetics, who wasn't involved in the trial, told NPR. "We as a species are watching this remarkable new show called: our gene-edited future."

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