NBA draft picks

nba-logo2

The recent NBA draft got me thinking, what does this have to do with design?  You might think, “nothing” since American team sports and designers in general don’t seem to mix, maybe its that “I’m an artist” vs. “I’m a team player” mentality, but that’s for another post.

Work with me here for a sec. Let’s look at some NBA draft results over the course of a few years.

Atlanta Hawks – 2005 – Selected Marvin Williams ahead of Deron Williams and Chris Paul

Detriot Pistons -2003 – Selected Darko Milicic ahead of Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade.

Golden State Warriors – 1996 – Selected Todd Fuller over Kobe Bryant,  Steve Nash

kobe_bryant

Los Angeles Clippers – 1988 – Selected Michael Olowokandi ahead of Antawn Jamison, Vince Carter, Dirk Nowitki, Paul Pierce

And arguably, the biggest mistake…

Portland Trailblazers – 1984 – Selected Sam Bowie ahead of Micheal Jordan

michael-jordan

The process of the NBA draft is full of analysis.  Players come in for workouts (testing prototypes), lots of statistics (intensive research), analysis on how they fit as part of the team (portfolio analysis), then ultimately making the selection (placing the bet on the product).  The “companies” spend 2-3 years doing this research on any given player.

Look above again, all that testing, research and ultimately, placing the bet on how to move forward, sometimes, just doesn’t pay off.  Look at how many “bets” ended up as busts.

The Design connection: lots of research, data and testing doesn’t always pay off, especially if the data is wrong (duh, but lots of people don’t realize they are looking at just bad data), as in the examples above.  Even if the research was right, just seems like there are so many other factors that can turn things upside down that data doesnt seem to uncover.  What’s the current economic condition? What’s the competition doing? Did your product have a hidden flaw? Your product tested well, but just didn’t perform in the real world, that’s full of so many unknowns. But that’s what’s great about life, it always throws you a curve. (sorry for the mixed sports metaphor)

Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate research, but i also think you can’t go overboard and you can’t let that drive every last decision you make.

Ugly gets attention

Can this be a good thing? Here are two things that started out ugly upon intro, then turned into classics and created brands that still exist today. What’s the cause of this? Was it a tipping point? Or some disruptive technology? Or some designer trying to be different. Or just a component of time and dumb luck? Maybe a mix of all.

1985 Air Jordans, if these shoes were Air Quintens, would they have done so well? In Jordan’s book, Driven from Within, one passage goes something like this. Tinker (of Nike) shows prototype shoes to Michael (and I think they were the black versions, even uglier), MJ says, these shoes are ugly; I’m not wearing these on the court. Tinker convinces him to give them a try. A week or so later, MJ says, man, these shoes feel great, they’re light and provide great support, but everyone on the team are laughing at the way these shoes look, Tinker goes on to say, but MJ, they ARE looking at your shoes, right??…Michael got it and went with it. A big part of the success of Jordan I’s, they got noticed. Sure it helped that MJ went on to be the best player ever in the NBA (my opinion). Regardless, a brand is born.

1985 Suzuki GSXR 750. This bike was just not a nice looking bike. This was the same year Kawasaki came out with the Ninja and everyone wanted that bike, even the name “Ninja” and the ad campaign, samurai’s cutting things up. To bikers obsessed with speed and being fast, that was bad ass! Long story short, the GSXR cut up the circuit in the amateur ranks and quickly became THE bike to have if you were serious about riding. The bike went through some “aero” redesign in 1988, but the GSXR legend had been established and a brand was born. Yeah, one might say it’s still ugly, but take a close look at the 1996 Ducati Monster. Slightly odd sculpting and proportions, and with the GSXR fairings off, lots of similarity. I’m not saying the Italians ripped off Suzuki, but maybe were inspired by something in the past. (That is if you think the Monster is a nice looking bike)

Seems like sometimes ugly can work. But ugly can’t stand on its own. Performance, it has to be there. Oh, and strong advertising helps too, like Spike Lee said, “its gotta be the shoes”. That said in today’s world, beauty can’t stand on its own either. In a perfect world, things would start off beautiful, have the performance and/or depth to back it up AND get the right stories told about it. The world isn’t perfect but here’s something to think about. As nature proves, some things start off ugly, but reach a state of beauty, like butterflies or babies! (Come on, babies in the first few minutes, not so nice!!) So that must mean there’s always hope for things, ugly.