190:The Value of Ethnocentric Design in New Product Development

190: Ethnocentric Design for Your Invention

August 24, 2023

With Thomas Ask, Professor of Industrial Design at Penn College

Hosted by Kevin Mako, President of MAKO Design + Invent

190 Ethnocentric Design for Your Invention
190: Ethnocentric Design for Your Invention

Thomas Ask is a Professor of Industrial Design at Penn College, which stands as a sibling institution to Penn State. With extensive experience spanning over three decades in the realm of hardware product development, he has also played pivotal roles in nurturing two hardware startups. Thomas’s academic journey culminated in the acquisition of a PhD in Industrial Design, further enhancing his expertise. Today, Thomas is going to share some valuable knowledge for inventors, startups, and small manufacturers on what ethnocentric design is, why it is valuable for a hardware startup, and the process to ensure you do a great job at getting inside the mind of your customer so that you can best achieve both design and sales success for your invention product.

Today you will hear us talk about:

  • What is ethnocentric design and how can it support invention realization?
  • Inventing something is about inventing something for someone.
  • A lot of design and invention is led by ego, but you should take out the ego to ensure your product resonates with your target audience.
  • Use data to identify common problems.
  • Develop empathy for the user and figure out what is going on in their life.
  • Interview your customer or prospective customer types.
  • What are formal ethnographic techniques?
  • The typical process should be understanding the user, then ideation, and then feedback collection.
  • Ideation is where you create ideas to match and infuse them into what you have learned from your customers.
  • Cultural consensus questionnaires are a great tool.
  • First, ensure your end customers are the correct people.
  • Many people don’t want radical change from traditional methods, even if it is better.
  • If it doesn’t work well and it is not intuitive, people will not use it.
  • A dynamic feedback loop ensures success.

Episode Highlights

  • 2:20 – We have a passion for designing things that we want. We like to invent things. We like to create something from nothing, to work in the void, and love the idea of what lies over the horizon.
  • 3:05 – There’s a difference between inventing something, and inventing something FOR somebody: catering to the people you are designing for – thinking like them, and putting yourself in their shoes.
  • 4:10 – We know how to understand what people want from our childhoods.
  • 5:30 – We don’t just make beautiful things – we make things that work.
  • 6:17 – What people say, and what people do are very different.
  • 6:44 – Humans are really good at solving their own problems, but inventors can offer a new perspective to problem-solving.
  • 10:10 – The genius of an idea can be lost in translation. Find ways to be clear, and become knowledgeable about what you are building to mitigate cultural identification issues.
  • 10:35 – Be super careful when building something that people depend upon for their lives.
  • 11:55 – If it doesn’t work well and it’s not intuitive, no one will buy your product.
  • 12:25 – Entry ways for an inventor can involve dealing with complex designs.
  • 13:30 – Being open to constructive feedback.
  • 16:55 – People want to surround themselves with things that reflect their own values and needs.

Thomas Ask Links:

LinkedIn | Penn College

The Product Startup Podcast Links:


Instagram | LinkedIn | Facebook Page | Facebook Group | Pinterest | Twitter | YouTube

Mako Design Links:

YouTube | Instagram | LinkedIn | Facebook | Pinterest | Twitter

Kevin Mako Links:

Instagram | LinkedIn | Quora | Facebook | Twitter

Partner: PTC’s best-in-class software solutions Onshape: The only cloud-native product development platform that delivers full-featured computer-aided design (CAD), integrated product data management (PDM) and enterprise analytics in a single system, and Creo: 3D CAD solution that provides designers with the most innovative tools to build better products faster, such as generative design, additive manufacturing, real-time simulation, IIoT, and augmented reality.

Producer: MAKO Design + Invent is the original firm providing world-class consumer product development services tailored to startups, small manufacturers, and inventors. Simply put, we are the leading one-stop-shop for developing your physical product from idea to store shelves, all in a high-quality, cost-effective, and timely manner. We operate as one powerhouse 30-person product design team spread across 4 offices to serve you (Austin, Miami, San Francisco, & Toronto). We have full-stack in-house industrial design, mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, patent referral, prototyping, and manufacturing services. To assist our startup and inventor clients, in addition to above, we help with business strategy, product strategy, marketing, and sales/distribution for all consumer product categories.