Pixar’s 22 rules for any company’s new products

Recently we were asked, as all firms are, “what makes a good product?” and classically it’s nemesis, “what does ‘good’ really mean? The fact remains, this does not apply to products – it applies to anything? Why not ask the same of “perfect” characters and then apply it to “perfect” products. Pixar’s model then sprang to mind and the rules almost “perfectly” applied. 


#1: You admire a character [product] for trying [designing] more than for their [the products] successes.

#2: You gotta keep in mind what’s interesting to you as an audience [user], not what’s fun to do as a writer [designer]. They can be v. different.

#3: Trying for theme [grand design vision] is important, but you won’t see what the story [users full experiences with the product] is actually about til you’re at the end of it [the product life cycle]. Now rewrite [and redesign for the full product lifecycyle].

#4: Once upon a time there was ___ [product]. Every day, ___ [that product]. One day ___ [that product]. Because of that, ___ [the product]. Because of that, ___ [product]. Until finally ___ [the product was so loved that it was handed down from generation to generation]

#5: Simplify. Focus. Combine characters [functions where possible but not too much]. You’ll feel like you’re losing valuable stuff but it sets you free.

#6: What is your character [product] good at, comfortable with? Throw [design for] the polar opposite at them [to happen with the product]. Challenge them. How do they [the product] deal [with strange use-cases]?

#7: Come up with your ending [of how the product will break] before you figure out your middle [production]. Seriously. Endings [of a product life cycle] are hard, get yours working up front.

#8: Finish your story [design], let go even if it’s not perfect [when working with engineering and production]. In an ideal world you have both, but move on. Do better next time – [iterate for v2]

#9: When you’re stuck [in a products design], make a list of what WOULDN’T happen next [be the best part of the design to loose]. Lots of times the material [manufacturing & production possibilities] to get you unstuck will show up [if you keep talking to your engineering and production] team.

#10: Pull apart the stories [products] you like. What you like in them is a part of you [how you use the products]; you’ve got to recognize it before you can use it [or design it for others].

#11: Putting it on paper lets you start fixing it. If it stays in your head, a perfect idea [product or design], you’ll never share it with anyone.

#12: Discount the 1st thing that comes to mind. And the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th – get the obvious out of the way. Surprise yourself.

#13: Give your characters [products] opinions [a strong visual statement]. Passive/malleable might seem likable to you as you write [design], but it’s poison to the audience [user as it makes for boring products].

#14: Why must you tell [make] THIS story [product]? What’s the belief [desire] burning within you that your story [product] feeds off of? That’s the heart of it [and why someone will buy it]

#15: If you were your character [user], in this situation, how would you feel [when you used & held the product]? Honesty lends credibility to unbelievable situations.

#16: What are the stakes? Give us reason to root for the character [product]. What happens if they [the product] don’t succeed? Stack the odds against [and design your way out of it failing.]

#17: No work [design] is ever wasted. If it’s not working, let go and move on – it’ll come back around to be useful later [or in another situation].

#18: You have to know yourself [and users who will use the product]: the difference between doing your best & fussing [over irrelevant details]. Story telling [designing] is testing, not refining.

#19: Coincidences to get characters into trouble are great; coincidences to get them out of it are cheating. – oddly there is no analog to this in product development

#20: Take the building blocks of a movie [product] you dislike. How would you rearrange [the exact components] into [a design of] what you DO like?

#21: You gotta identify with your situation/characters [products in the context of their use], you can’t just write [design] ‘cool’. What would make YOU act that way [want to be ‘cool’ with the product you are designing?

#22: What’s the essence of your story [product]? Most economical telling [production] of it? If you know that, you can [design, build and engineer] out from there.

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