Dissecting Hugh Dubberly’s Success Model

Posted on 10 May 2016 by The Manufacturer

Hugh Dubberly may not be a household name, but in product design circles, he’s very well known. Once, he was a vice president of the Web Design and Site Integration Department of Netscape, but now he runs his own design consulting company under his own name. His goal is to simplify the complex in order to make better products.

The Hugh Dubberly Success Model chart - click the image to enlarge.
The Hugh Dubberly Success Model chart – click the image to enlarge.

Hugh Dubberly’s Success Model

Hugh Dubberly is known for his tendency to simply things through the use of charts and graphs. This may well be exemplified in his “Success Model”, an overall view of the design process, from conception to distribution and beyond, focusing on many aspects of success – financial, popular, and technical.

Desirable: What do people desire?

The first aspect of the user model is context. According to the dictionary, this is “the set of circumstances that surround a particular event, situation, etc.” In this case, it’s the set of circumstances surrounding a given product or technology you wish to introduce to the public. Hugh Dubberly’s Success Model looks at several different aspects of context in order to help the prospective creator make sound decisions about where, how, and when to make their creations desirable.

  • Historical: Is the time right for this creation? There’s something to the adage about striking when the iron is hot. The creation of the car, matched with Henry Ford’s mass production innovations, were the right thing at the right time – an invention that revolutionized the world within a generation.
  • Social: There really are some things the public isn’t ready to accept. There have been countless times when knowledge has been suppressed because it wasn’t socially acceptable, for whatever reason. The desirability of a product is dependent upon the public wanting that product. Economic: There are products that are luxury products and others that save the user money. Obviously, if the economy is booming, luxury items will do well – but items that help save money will always do well, especially if it is a cheaper alternative to a luxury item or to a necessity. It’s always important to avoid pricing oneself out of the market, but that can be difficult to do with a market always in flux.

The second aspect of the user model is the user. This is the person, or type of person, you expect to be using your product. Everything produced has a target market, in part because it’s nearly impossible to make something that appeals to every person on the planet. Dubberly’s chart looks at three components of the user base.

  • Demographic: Simply enough, is there an audience for the product? Who will want it? The people who will desire the product should be identified early in the process.
  • Psychographic: If the demographic is who they are physically, the psychographic is who they are mentally and socially. How they live their lives, what they like to do, how they feel about the various forces in their lives – these are all a part of the psychographic profile.
  • Technographic: This is a relatively new aspect, but it is increasingly important in determining the desirability of a product, especially a technological one. This involves the potential customer’s level of technological involvement. Someone who still primarily uses a landline for communication will have different needs from someone who has the latest smartphone. Likewise, a company that uses local servers for everything will have different needs for one that’s moved pretty much everything to the cloud.

The third aspect of the user model is values. An important part of desirability is determining what is most important to the user, at least in regard to the product. Will the user feel good about using the product? This isn’t a concern for some products, but for others, this could be a determining factor.

Next in the user model is goals. What’s ultimately in it for the user to get this product and why would they want whatever it is you have to offer? You’ll have to answer this question in order to create a successful product or even a useful business model.

Last, the user model features scenarios. Think of some concrete circumstances where your product might be of some use, or reasons someone might need to utilize what you have to offer. Or conversely, think of ways something might go wrong, so you can shore up any flaws before they become a reality.

The user plan is shorter, having only two parts: design schedule and behavior spec. Your design schedule is where the planning begins. It’s very much the plan of the planning – taking your concepts and describing exactly how you’re going to bring them into being. Your behavior spec is the intended behavior of the item itself, without all the engineering and scientific explanations. What will it do that makes it desirable?

Taken together, the user plan and the user model are “the domain of goal-directed design”, as the chart states it. This is where it all begins, by focusing on the desires, motivations, and needs of your potential customers.

Viable: How does it survive in the real world?

One way to answer, or even ensure, the answer to that question of profitability is to have a good business model.

Determine your initial sources of capital, and how much you’ll get from them, or how much you expect. Once you have a relative idea of how much money you’ll be taking in, make a detailed account of how you intend to spend it. Your business model is your conception of how your business will work from the time you get it off the ground onward.

Where your business model is a projection of how you intend for things to turn out, your business plan is how you intend to get there.

Each step along the way is going to require a certain path, and your business plan is the map, it needs to be both clear and detailed, so any potential investors will see exactly how your business will benefit everyone involved. You’ll need to know how you’re going to build, market, launch, and distribute your product, long before the first prototype is even made.

Buildable: Can we make it?

The technology model looks at the product in the bigger picture, from beginning to end. You’re going to have to get parts from somewhere, or components even, if you’re building software. Are you going to write all your own code or construct all your own parts? Are you going to buy them from someone else? And what, exactly, makes your product better than your competitors?

  • Tech components: Before you even get started, you’re going to need a comprehensive list of the things you’ll need to make your product a possibility. Then, you’re going to have to figure out how you’re going to get them – which is its own section.
  • Competitors: Unless you have something completely unique, you’re going to have competitors. Determine who else is vying for the same market as you and definitively define what makes your product better than the others. Chances are good you’ll be using the same sources for some of your components as they.
  • Build vs. buy, buy vs. open source: As stated before, you’re going to have to get something from somewhere to build, even if you’re starting from scratch. You’re going to need source code, or basic parts, or even whole devices or applications to get going, and you’re going to have to determine the sources.

Your technology plan involves the details of what makes your product a physical thing. If it’s an object, this is where you detail the specifications: how big it is, its shape, its tolerances, all the things that go into it to make it work (or to just make it look good). Or it might include the code you intend to use and what that code will eventually do. Where the technology model can be a little vaguer on these details, your technology plan has to be exact, to the last detail, because this is what your engineers will use to make your final product a reality.

Tying it all together

Each of the three components, desirability, viability, and buildability serve as parts of the final calculation. Desirability is how likely the product is to be loved by the public once the product is launched. Viability leads to the probability of sustaining the success of the item once it’s available to the public and generating a profit of some kind. Buildability directly relates to how likely it is the product will be technically completed, as in delivered to the final customer.

Altogether, these three factors combined determine the success of your given product. The genius of the Dubberly model is in how it breaks down what could be a complicated process into a relatively simple flowchart that anyone can understand and use to take a concept from an idea, to a real product available to the world, so long as you’re willing to do the work and research necessary to make it a reality.


By Laura O’Donnell.

Laura O’Donnell writes content on behalf of Pivot International. Find her on LinkedIn.