The Donut Test: Measuring the health of your company or product

This morning I had the privilege of speaking at TEDxSanFrancisco, where I discussed the need to redesign our worlds - our very civilization - to yield health instead of illness. A video of the talk is here.

I wanted to challenge the smart, elite audience of designers and creators and entrepreneurs to think about the impact of their creations on the public: Do they bring people health, or bring them less health? My analogy was… donuts. Donuts taste great, but they’re not really that good for us. Especially if all we eat - all we consume - is donuts.

Too many technologies and startups and products are virtual donuts. Things that may make us feel better, at first, but have a net negative impact on our health. They make us passive. They keep us isolated from our communities. And they encourage us to move less.

The crux of this challenge is a simple 5 question checklist, to ask yourself - as a creator and as a consumer - what the impact of the companies and products we build and use might be. These questions are:

1. does my company/product reduce the time people spend alone?

2. does it help people move more?

3. is it good for me and good for family/friends/community?

4. does it make people feel better after they use it?

5. do people benefit more the more they use it?

Another way to consider this is to take what I call the Donut Test. The test uses a marginal utility curve - a basic principle from economics - to measure the incremental value or benefit of any additional unit of a good or service. When it comes to donuts, that first donut tastes great - we get a lot of pleasure out of it. The second one, not so much. And by the third or fourth or fifth donut (you know you’ve eaten five in a go), we’re actually feeling worse with every bite. The value becomes actually a net negative.

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The purpose of the Donut Test is to hold ourselves accountable for what we make, and what we consume. If we really want to rebuild our civilization for health, we’ve got to make sure that we build health into the equation at every opportunity.

Thomas Goetz