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The Best Products that Nobody Wanted to Buy
Product Design Melbourne

Launching a new product is not for the faint-hearted. Between the costs of design and development, tooling and manufacture, logistics and marketing, even the simplest of products can involve a large investment. With all of that time and money invested, you want to ensure that there’s a large field of eager buyers ready to snatch up your product, right? At Bayly we often have potential clients come to us, both individuals and large corporations, with grand ideas for the next big thing. They love the idea, and their friends love the idea, so it is sure to be a success. There is no need for extra research or second-guessing their solution, is there?

Knowing your customers matters

At Bayly we believe that it is critical to ensure that you have the right foundations for your product design project. That means ensuring that there are needs that you can solve, truly understanding what those needs are, and how important it is to people to solve them. Without that solid foundation, it is too easy to produce an amazing product that no-one wants to buy. This isn’t just a trap for beginners, or for people who are new to an industry. Even the biggest companies in the world have made excellent products that no-one wants. Below are a few of our favourites.

Ford Edsel – 1958

Edsel Ford was the only son of Henry Ford, founder of the Ford motor company. Growing up under his famous but eccentric father, Edsel struggled to make a mark on the family business. Henry even went so far as to actively sabotage some of his son's attempts to modernise the company and its product range. It seems somehow fitting that the range of cars that Ford eventually named after him, was a flop. Ford saw an opportunity in the market in the late 1950’s to launch a new model line to compete with existing products from other makers. Unfortunately for Ford, the market didn’t have enough demand to carry another range of Fords, especially a range that was no better at meeting the needs of the market than existing offerings. Minor innovations offered creative solutions to problems that often didn’t exist, and within a few years Edsel disappeared from Ford’s line-up.

Apple Newton – 1993

The Apple Newton was conceptually an excellent idea when it was launched. It launched the term Personal Digital Assistant (PDA) and had handwriting recognition. At the same time texting was barely a thing on the Nokia 5110. Apple had not, however, properly considered what the market would bear cost-wise to have access to such technology. At around $700USD it turned out that the Newton was well beyond what most users considered reasonable. Along with teething issues related to the innovative platform, the Newton is a great example of an excellent product that missed the mark. Look at how well Palm Pilots did a few years later. Compare the benefits of the Newton to some of the features that we take for granted in our mobile phones today.

Sony Betamax – 1975

Who remembers using VHS tapes at home to record your favourite TV shows or movies off the TV? Does anyone remember trying to do the same with Betamax? Sony’s foray into home use personal video recording is a perfect example of not undertaking adequate product research or understanding how a user’s needs rank. The Betamax was launched before the VHS, and offered superior video and audio quality. The 1 hour length came from Sony’s previous use of the technology in the commercial world for purposes such as security videos. Who wants to record their favourite movie in 2 parts? Sony failed to identify the need for alternative lengths for domestic use.

Sinclair C5 – 1985

The Segway is far from the first attempt to find an innovative solution to short commutes. In 1983 Sir Clive Sinclair, who had made his fortune in calculators and computers, released an electric powered, 3 wheeled, single seater vehicle known as the C5. It had a luggage compartment, good aerodynamics, lights and indicators and a 20 mile range. It recognised some of the needs of commuters in congested cities, offering easier propulsion and more secure luggage carrying than a bicycle, with better manoeuvrability and lower running costs than a car. What it failed to do was adequately consider the needs that existing options already met. It’s low height made it frightening to travel in traffic in and its £399 price had it competing with a secondhand car than a bicycle. When a cheap moped could travel faster and farther, had a more familiar power source and appearance and a seated height that didn’t leave you feeling like you were going to be squashed under the tyres of a passing mini, it is easy to see why the C5 never reached its expected sales targets.

Do Your Homework (or Let Us Do It for You)

As you can see from the above list, no matter how big and successful your business is, now many great products you have produced, or how much experience you have in a market, no-one is immune from product failure that stems from failing to understand customer needs.

At Bayly, here in Melbourne, we have been working hard to fine-tune our research process. Our goal is that every product that goes out of our doors has the best possible chance of success. We’ve been looking around the world at best practice in identifying, validating and ranking customer needs and demands, and we are proud to be able to offer you the ability to understand your potential customers, well before the first prototype is made.

If you’re interested in Product Design success, give Bayly a call on +61 3 9413 9000 or send us an email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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Ryan Mischkulnig, 15 May 2017

Ford Edsel Citation 1958
Image: Motor Trend

Sony Betamax Recorder


Apple Newton
Image: Old Computers

Header: Sinclair C5
Image: C5 Owners