Lessons from the Apprentice: How to avoid designing a turd

January 13th, 2022

The Apprentice is back bigger than ever and returning after a two-year break due to Covid-19. In the first episode, candidates were asked to create a marketing campaign for a new cruise liner. The boys’ team led by Harry created a logo that many on social media said looked like a ‘turd’, due to its shape and brown-green colour.

The second episode of this season’s The Apprentice sees yet another “turd” designed by the boys’ team and a furious Lord Sugar vents his frustrations in the board room but why do the candidates keep designing turds?

Some people on social media think ‘boys will be boys’ but James McInerny, Co-Managing Director for Innovate Design, the product design company whose job it was to assist in creating the ‘second turd’ of the season says it’s actually a common problem for lots of entrepreneurs and the solution is not what you might think.

“That” toothbrush task

For the second episode, the candidates were given a tough challenge – design an electric toothbrush for children with an accompanying app. In a hilarious episode that saw one of the “scariest tooth characters ever created”, once again the boys’ team creates a design, which even a panel of experts said, “looked like a turd.”

James from Innovate Design helped the producers to design the challenge and lead Innovate’s design team which helped the candidates to produce working prototypes of their brush and app products which the candidates later pitched to potential buyers.

He says: “In the first two episodes, the challenge was to create a design that resonates with potential customers. In both cases, both teams of candidates totally missed the mark! What we saw in the second episode is a common problem for many entrepreneurs creating products but there is a simple solution.”

Avoid designing a turd: Tip 1 – Get some expert advice

Innovate Design, the company helping to create the brushes and apps were banned from helping candidates with their design decisions. James says this is a major issue if you don’t want to end up with a design that won’t work.

He says: “Entrepreneurs often think they have to know everything, but that’s impossible. If you look at successful people like Lord Sugar, they pull together a team of experts to advise them on the product they are developing. Experts have specialist knowledge that successful business leaders draw on to make great decisions. This episode is a great example of what happens when you don’t have any experts to guide you.”

Avoid designing a turd: Tip 2 – Get feedback early on and throughout the design process

Once the candidates had designed their brush and app combos, they went to see a focus group to get feedback from children in their product’s target age group. While James thinks this is important, he says there is a critical error in the process and that is timing.

He says: “You need to get feedback early and often. It’s great that candidates went to see what their target market thought of the products but they had already finished the design process. They couldn’t do anything with the feedback they received. We recommend gaining feedback from potential customers as early as possible and continue to get feedback throughout the process, using what you learn to improve your product as you go.”

It’s not all bad news for the candidates

The candidates have now designed two “turds” and faced tough criticism for it from Lord Sugar in the boardroom, but James thinks there is a positive future for the candidates who survived, despite disastrous recent events.

He adds: “There is a saying in the design world – ‘fail fast and fail often’. This doesn’t mean you should try to fail but rather expect that things won’t work first time round. Instead, expect mistakes to happen and use any failures to your advantage. The candidates have made a lot of errors in these first couple of episodes and if they can learn from them, they can avoid making the same mistakes on future tasks and consequently, this will help them to make much better decisions.”

Why Innovate-Design loves Lord Sugar

Innovate Design has a lot of respect for Lord Sugar. The design company specialises in helping inventors and start-ups to commercialise their ideas, exporting UK designs to Europe, the US and the rest of the world.

When Innovate Design first started, it was an article written by Lord Sugar in his Mirror column in response to a question by Innovate-Design’s founder Alastair Swanwick, which helped give the company the credibility it needed to become the success it is today.

During filming for The Apprentice, Innovate-Design celebrated its 20th year of business and Alastair was honoured to present Lord Sugar with a custom toothbrush they designed for him to commemorate the episode.

Alastair says: “It was a great experience to meet Lord Sugar in person and thank him for the help he gave us in those early years. In this task, our team took the brief and the candidates’ designs and created complex prototypes – to the exact specifications required by the candidates under immense pressure and in next to no time. I am incredibly proud of what they achieved and it was a pleasure to be involved with the show.”