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Jack Of All Trades: Versatility in Product Design ?

Versatility in Product Design is risky: by trying to combine too many features, the risk is to obtain either a complicated product, fragile, costly or reaching none of the intended users or market.

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jack of all trades, master of none in product design?

F35 Jet
F35 Jet

Common Reasons or Causes

  • no clear vision of the product or intended use
  • too many stakeholders
  • no leadership
  • no roots to market or market unknown (therefore “I want all these features; Everything is a must.“)
  • willing to save money (initially … later this will end anyway in the most expensive solution)
  • engineers being too … engineers! (or alone, or far from the field)
  • no “manage your boss” attitude from the technical team & designers

… or no time in the project to clear out with marketing some aspects above

Project Time spent at specs is never lost (but do converge!)

Risks / Consequences

Trying to combine all requested features, from our experience, always leads to the most complex with all its related consequences:

  • most costly
  • most heavy
  • each function, individually, could not be optimized
  • potentially less reliable
  • less ergonomic & complex maintenance

Example: The Swiss Knife

Made for years in Switzerland (see our Factory Tour video on this), it combines many features in a very compact design.

It has even become a common sentence for versatility (“The swiss knife of ….”).

Photography of lemon near kitchen knife
Cooking Knife

If every feature is taken separately:

  • this is not the best blade ever to cook (length, thickness, steel, locking …)


  • this is not the best saw ever (size, ergonomics, resharpening ability …)


Good Scissor
Good Scissor
  • this is not the best scissor ever (size, ergonomics …)
  • is not the best can opener
  • not the best corkscrew
  • not the best file (length if to be used for more than for nails)


…. but it fits in the pocket, is durable for small applications, and fulfills our later conclusion here below.

Some more examples where we let you decide the marketing positioning and the versatility

    • cooking machines (mixing; cooking, weighting, including “smart” recipes …)
    • 4WD cars targetting cities
    • some tractor models
    • some bikes, combining big wheels of mountain bikes and gears and position of city bikes
    • some (very) big smartphones that barely fit in a pocket (back to “transportable” phone?)
    • multicolor pen (from 4-in-1 to 8-in-1 or even more)


Do it only when versatility IS the feature, not the sum of the features look after


And claim it as such.

Ex the “multitool” (usually in the knife shelf, but is it ?)

Tip: spend time as much as required on the initial specs, functions prioritization & value analysis rather than jumping directly on the drawing board.

This stage has the biggest impact on the final product.

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