Design Lessons From Henry Ford’s T-Model

Even though he was one of the richest men in the world, Henry Ford remained a simple man who loved a home cooked meal and some afternoon work on his farm. But as the T-Model grew as a dramatically successful car, news headlines multiplied as well:

Henry Ford the Folk Hero.

Ford changing the world.

Henry Ford the great man.

His money didn’t change him but he started to believe the headlines and it became very evident as well…

There is a particular story in Ford’s history after which he returned from a European jaunt to find a new prototype built by one of his ace production men, William Knudson. It was supposed to be a successor to the model T. His mechanics reported how he would go berserk at times, including this time.

Ford had his hands in his pockets, and he walked around (the) car three or four times. Finally, he got to the left-hand side of the car, and he takes hold of the door, and bang! He ripped the door right off! He jumped in there, and bang goes the other door. Bang goes the windshield. He wrecked the car as much as he could.

Ford loved his T-Model so much that he barely wanted to change a bolt on it. He refused to change until competitive necessity forced him to create the A-Model.

It’s a compelling story. But it’s more than that. It’s a story that speaks about us as designers and developers and how we lead those who follow us. Like Ford helped shape the future of transportation, we are busy creating the future of digital interactions; a future that will be a result of change. Or a lack of that.

I’ve come to see over the past few months that the best designs does not come by waking up one morning, thinking that a client’s website needs to change. Or by just reading another article or copying the latest one-page-flat-parallax trend?

As I wrote in my previous article about the rise of genius design, the best designs come through collaboration and collaboration doesn’t happen until I change into a collaborative person. And that requires personal change first.

Refusing to change will result in creating what Happy Cog calls yet another site that looks just the same.

I’m deeply moved by Howard Hendricks wisdom on change from his book, Teaching to Change Lives:

“How have you changed lately? In the last week, let’s say? Or in the last month? The last year? Can you be very specific? Or must your answer be incredible vague? You say you’re growing. Okay… how? ‘Well,’ you say, ‘In all kinds of ways.’ Great! Name one. You see effective teaching only comes through a changed person. The more you change, the more you become an instrument of change in the lives of others. If you want to become a change agent you also must change.”

Yes, I’m a designer in Durbanville, Cape Town, but I also want to be a change agent in my community. And in order for me to be that person, I have to change first.

I hope you will change with me…