Artists, Engineers, and Entrepreneurs Episode 7: Douglas Ferguson, President Voltage Control

Episode 7 of Artists, Engineers, and Entrepreneurs (ae2) introduces us to Douglas Ferguson, author of Beyond the Prototype and President of Voltage Control, a workshop agency that helps companies look past their current design processes.

Douglas discovered early on that he was not built to be a cog in the big company machine and developed a passion for creating and innovating in the world of start-up companies. In his second start-up company, he had a learning moment that framed the rest of his career. Despite the more advanced, superior technology they were creating, they lost business to a competitor. As frustrating as this was for the company, the experience enlightened him to a different way of thinking about things.

Rather than focusing just on the technology of a product he began to focus equally on the design of the product and the market of the product. When designing a product, you need to ask yourself: “Is there an appetite for this technology? Have we built it in a way that people will embrace it?” As he moved on to other start-ups, he applied this approach not only to product design, but also to building engineering and product organizations. 

In product design, two popular philosophies are Waterfall and Agile. The waterfall philosophy starts with a requirement, then the product is designed while trying to ensure that all the pieces work together. The agile mindset allows the design team to react to the moving pieces (e.g., customer demand, market) in order to improve the design. Douglas encourages organizations to focus on the mindset of agile instead of the processes and steps. 

One way that Voltage Control puts this into practice is through a design sprint. In a design sprint, teams design for modularity – accelerating innovation by prioritizing function over specifications. Design sprints are deep dives into design that begin with a clearly articulated goal that help teams to become highly aligned. It’s a more holistic approach to design that pushes for early prototypes of the product (even if it’s just a portion of the final design). By taking risks through steps like prototyping sooner in the design process, you can minimize the impact of the risk. 

Click the video below to learn more about design sprints from Douglas and how to get “from now to next.”

ae2 is a web-series from Hiller Measurements is a long-form interview-style program that explores thought leaders at the “business end” of companies, creative works, and research. In each episode, Hiller Measurements’ President Jeff Olsen explores the creative drive, personal motivations, and stories of perseverance of visionaries who are still “in the hunt.”

Through ae2, our aim is to find the business model in the engineering mind, the drive and technique a gifted artist is developing, and the impact for good that outweighs the personal risk taken on by bold business creators. Overall, the goal of our series is to inspire viewers to step out, build, and create.

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