User Experience Design

Purpose-Driven Design: 4 Lessons You Can Learn From the Tesla Model 3

When Elon Musk unveiled Tesla’s Model 3, he demonstrated principles of purpose-driven design, which you can apply to your projects today.

by Darrell Estabrook

When Elon Musk unveiled Tesla’s latest Model 3 at the end of March, he demonstrated the principles of Purpose-driven Design, which you can apply to your projects today.

Tesla Model 3

Any creative endeavor starts with Purpose

Before getting into the details of the Model 3, Elon started with a pivotal intro: “I just want to start with why we’re doing this. Why does Tesla exist? Why are we making electric cars? Why does it matter?” The answer: “To accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy.”

Whether you’re starting up a multi-million dollar venture or building a web app, your Purpose will guide every design decision that comes after it. The great thing about a Purpose is you can create smaller and more focused ones for every desired outcome. For Tesla, everything from how to install charging stations worldwide to the interface design of the digital dashboard are all guided by individual Purposes, which roll up to their main Purpose.

Do you have a clear definition of why you’re building what you’re building?

Do one small thing with excellence before a big rollout

The first car—the Tesla Roadster—played to a small audience that could afford it, but allowed Tesla to build one thing extremely well. It established their brand as one that strove for excellence. Now that the Model 3 has been unveiled 10 years later, they not only have a reputation for quality at all levels of detail, but it’s likely their company culture has that eye for excellence infused in it at every level.

Take this review by a consumer comparing a competitor’s electric vehicle to Tesla: “In the end, the Nissan Leaf is a wonderful and functional city car…and makes a most practical second or commuter car. But…the experience behind the wheel [of the Tesla Model S] takes driving to a much higher level. And that's something to celebrate indeed.”

How are you striving for excellence in what you’re building? People will notice.

You must demonstrate something for people to believe it (or, there is no such thing as throwaway work)

When the second Tesla vehicle was released—the Model S—it not only had new technology and affordability, it was recognized as the best car in its class. Elon Musk explained, “It wasn’t to win awards or anything. We wanted to show the world that an electric car can be the best car. Because nobody believed an electric car could do this.” (Notice how this ties back to Tesla’s main Purpose from #1.)

By definition, the divergent idea is the riskiest because it’s never been done. But every idea warrants a prototype to prove it out. Prototypes need not be complex, but every test and experiment yields learning, and learning informs design decisions. Even if this learning demonstrates the idea won’t work, it is a low-cost lesson and can only make your next design decision more informed.

Are you trying out your ideas in a small way before going into full-scale production?

Even the strictest of business plans must be creatively agile

Originally, Tesla had “a three-step master plan.” However, after the successful Model S release it became clear that the market also desired an SUV. “So, we decided to extend the Model S platform into the Model X [a full-size crossover SUV],” explained Elon.

It turns out that the revenue from both these models was needed in order to fund the production needs of the Model 3.

This brings us full-circle to the first point and extends it—as the Purpose changes, so the design must change. It is not only okay to change course, but also necessary. As tempting as it may be to stay the course, it will hurt you more in the long run to resist re-aligning to a newly-informed Purpose. 

Are you on moving ahead with an old design even though the Purpose may have changed?

Whether your endeavor is large or small, you can benefit by applying these lessons today. If you’re interested in seeing how these lessons might specifically apply to your situation, drop me a line.

You can watch the complete Model 3 unveiling on Vimeo.


Image Credit: REUTERS/Stephen Lam

Darrell Estabrook
Darrell Estabrook
User Experience Lead
Contact Darrell

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