What exactly is product design? What makes design so excellent and unique that people will love it? These are the sort of questions we would want to ask ourselves whenever we think of any design. Here’s one famous quote, given by the most charismatic pioneer of the personal computer era about product design.
Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works. — Steve Jobs
Product design has always been an interdisciplinary subject. Whether you are an industrial product designer, an architectural designer, or a designer of products in the non-physical realm — web designer, graphic designer, digital product designer, and the rest, ultimately your goal is to solve a particular problem.
But before we solve a problem, let’s quickly see how it all started:
The evolution of design started way before the well-known story of the Industrial Revolution. Unlike the present-day context of design, which mainly revolves around modern architecture and framework, the field of design has been a much older expression of a multitude of historical eras longing back to different ages.
For example, if we looked back at the stone age thousands of years ago, we can observe the events around that time and see the fundamental ideas behind the invention of earlier versions of wheels, weapons, and so on at play.
The way they started with the single original material and utilized it for making other tools for hunting and other purposes, and later managed to create a society and a culture based on that one material.
Over the period, a perceptual shift in its approach from pragmatic to artistic has shaped our designs into the present-day form.
Hmm. If history sounds boring for you, here’s a fun story:
A group of friends is on a bus enjoying their trip they’d been planning for months. The journey is going along smoothly when suddenly, the vehicle starts trembling. The bumpy road starts to take a toll on the bus, and it progressively deteriorates, until it finally gives up and ultimately succumbs.
They start to get dispirited. It’s a lonely place in the middle of nowhere. Boredom takes over, and they begin to shoot the breeze. One of them starts to go off on the inefficient design of these buses, which were supposed to run on roads like this.
Several ideas get discussed in between, with high steering and suspension components design to proper ground clearance and many more. One of them suggests using sensors and Artificial Intelligence(A.I.) to predict potholes and expected loads and strains to better come with challenging conditions.
But as soon as they hear from the driver that the engine is fixed and they can move ahead with the journey, you can guess what happened to those “brilliant” ideas…
Their ideas faded into insignificance straight away, showing why most of our concepts only live in our thoughts and conversations between our friends.
Drawing up a business plan for any product design is simple, but one needs to put their shoulder to the wheel to make it a design success.
Here are seven steps to help you with that:
1. Productivity Ratio Should Be High
Before evaluating what productivity ratio is, let me ask you,
“What makes a design great?”
Could you take a second and think about it? There is no right/wrong answer. Suppose you can come up with an example, even better. Here’s a good one:
The answer is simple. A cow eats grass and gives milk. Generally speaking, cows can convert energy in a way that humans cannot. It ultimately generates some value-added products that we consume daily.
The design should be something similar to this; it should consume grass and give us milk.
Here’s another example.
Cellphone charges for 30–40 minutes and works for the next 24 hours, which means handling the workloads of a plethora of features to make our life better like it was designed to.
It wasn’t always this way, but the people responsible for the evolution of batteries, which include engineers, product designers, scientists, and even people like product enthusiasts and YouTubers, had this principle in mind.
An example of bad design and improving on it,
A classical dynamo mounted on a regular bicycle to generate a small voltage of energy to light a bulb. The amount of effort put on paddling is a lot considering how quickly the light energy drains off.
It might still be applicable in many cases, but not it doesn’t deliver the high output compared to what other high-end products offer.
However, there have been many improvements in dynamo in recent times that can produce plenty of usable light from LEDs with computer-designed optics.
So, looking at these examples, you know that a design idea should have high output ratio compared to the input. Here, the reason why the product, cell phone edges over the ordinary dynamo, is that the productivity ratio of any cellphone is significantly higher and offers more benefits.
Moreover, the use case for dynamo is constrained to people who are into bikes. Still, a cell phone is something that offers higher utility to the broader scope of the community.
A good product should give more than what it takes.
2. Product Aesthetic: Should Be Able To Blow People’s Mind
Nothing will grab attention quicker than a product that appears slick and stylish. That is why companies worldwide invest millions, if not billions, on ensuring the high aesthetics of the product. And if your products look terrible or confusing, then people aren’t going to give it a chance.
It’s the same principle that draws us to attractive materials and objects.
Of course, the product may need to appear stylish or have a unique shape that reflects its identity, but it doesn’t mean that it should neglect its function.
A product with great aesthetics and good service always has an advantage over the average-looking one with the same functionality.
Once the product delivers a good-level of the functionality, it’s all about the amenities. Some schools of thought go even one step further and claim that proper aesthetics are equal to, if not more important than functionality itself. But I’ll let you be the judge.
I recently went to a retail store to buy a bunch of stuff, and I noticed many newer brands of Local Sanitizers placed in the rack. I glanced through each of them to see what ingredients they were made of, and the majority of them had the same — Ethyl alcohol, Isopropyl Alcohol, Glycerin, and so on.
I finally decided to buy the one that looked good in design, with a comfortable nozzle-pressing option, and the best display sticker, despite it being narrowly overpriced. Here, I chose a better design over an average design.
Besides, product ergonomics also plays an essential role in increasing the product’s efficiency and compatibility. Considering ergonomics in design is mainly aimed at improving the ease of use and reducing injuries. This concept is one of the critical specifications of any model in the present-day form.
So, product design should, at a minimum, meet the expectations of its function. But excellent product design is the one that should raise its bar and deliver more than what’s expected.
It should aim at blowing people’s minds.
3. Does It Solve A Real Problem?
The design should be able to address a real problem, not a perceived one.
Consider a quick example:
When you are hungry and search for a quick option, then Maggi is probably the first thing in your mind. If you are unfamiliar with what Maggi is, it’s one of the most popular noodles in India, Pakistan, Singapore, and other countries.
It was formed with a purpose by Swiss entrepreneur Julius Maggi who had the vision to make food with good taste and nutritious and accessible to busy and working families.
It was especially targeted for women working in the industries and did not get enough time to prepare healthy food for their children while returning from school.
It was an excellent time-saving option for both of them, requiring less effort.
So, “Maggi, yes, your 2 minutes Maggi” served a great purpose at that time, solving the necessity of getting the snacks instantly. Otherwise, imagine, who would want to spend 15 minutes or more to prepare Chapati or Paratha, after being worn out from work.
This solving of the real problem is what helped make Maggi noodles an international brand.
So, when you pitch your idea or design, make sure that it solves a real problem.
4. Understanding Human Behavior
In general, human beings can often be driven by intuition, seeking inspiration to find what solves their problems, or trying to see what others have been exploring so far to solve their problems.
Nonetheless, we do have particular behavior guided by our:
For developing countries like Nepal, most people tend to follow the societal culture or a trend, without actually doing a compelling background analysis.
Recently, the state government proposed a Green-Sticker Rule to ensure that only the vehicles with ethical emission standards are allowed. If a car is found to have breached emission standards, it would be penalized.
It was a good initiative considering how much it would add value to the environment by reducing the harmful emissions. But, it didn’t live up to the hype and couldn’t penetrate well into the market. Here’s what the majority of people didn’t know about:
The 2003 standards require four-wheelers registered in 1980 or before to emit carbon monoxide (CO) less than 4.5% of total gases, or not more than 1,000 parts-per-million of hydrocarbons. Vehicles registered after 1980 cannot exceed 3% of CO. If they do, they do not get a Green Sticker.
Although it seems straight forward, whenever you ask the public about why did they buy those green stickers, the majority of them will probably respond — “I just bought it. My friend bought it, so did I. And even more like, it was kind of cheap, so I bought it.” It’s rare that people used those stickers knowing what they were really about.
It shows that sometimes if the product gets rolled into the market without actually explaining what it is about to the public, it might not live up to its expectations.
Failing to understand human nature while designing your product is setting up your product to fail.
So, ensure that your design fulfills the criteria for understanding human behavior.
5. Does It Scale?
When you are creating any design on your drawing board, your plan should be well-prepared for future growth.
Be mindful of scalability early on, because you’re better off assuming that every product has excellent growth potential. Your product turning into a big success shouldn’t just be a possibility but rather believed to be a certainty.
When you are designing your product, you should be aiming for higher traffic in sales.
Just targeting 50–100 pieces in sales won’t help you recover through your initial investment, as you might already be facing a lot of financial burdens. So make sure your product can handle increased market demands.
However, we also need to understand that sometimes, the project’s complexity, higher initial investments, and other factors associated makes it harder for people to opt for scalable business right off the bat.
Remember, when Thomas Edison was working with his light bulbs, he had to deal with thousands of unsuccessful bulbs to make the final working version of it. So, he had to fail a thousand times before his product hailed as a milestone in the human invention.
This light bulb was able to quickly flood the market, which then scaled into billions, and became a part of modern life that one cannot think of a world without.
So if you want your product to scale, ensure that the supply chain is steady even at high volume, while still robust enough to provide the high-quality of your product.
If the supplies are expected to be thin on the ground shortly, you need to make sure that you have a significant amount in stock or a suitable substitute ready.
Make sure to prioritize scalability beforehand, because, although you may not see the immediate utility, ultimately, scalability is the road that leads to an oasis of reliability.
6. Cost/Price Ratio
Price is one of the most critical factors in the purchase or acquisition of a product. Product design should always come up with effective pricing strategies.
Some ideas are indeed satisfying, unique, and feasible in every way. Still, most people don’t know how to transform those concepts into reality and introduce the inventions to the market with improper pricing models.
In a competitive market, product designers face a lot of pressures in designing a unique piece that is cost-effective, great quality and attracts a lot of costumers.
You would try out different marketing strategies, but it doesn’t mean the consumers would likely be purchasing it.
For example, if you create a product that costs around 10$ but, the average income of people around that city is too low, then there is a high likelihood that people would avoid it, even if they like the product.
In an area with an average income of 10$, you would least expect the people to spend 10$ for a product. The price of your product should be highly inclusive in the market or the community you share.
To develop a suitable pricing plan, you can conduct surveys on finding the price-points of your product where it becomes affordable, and where it becomes too expensive.
7. Design For the Common Good(And Sustainability)
You may have heard of the phrase, “The triple bottom line(TBL).” It’s a framework or a theory that recommends that companies commit to focusing on social and environmental concerns just as they do on profits.
For example, Amazon had pledged to publish its carbon footprint and has spent billions of dollars last year to develop a scientific model to map its carbon footprint and find ways to reduce it.
According to Environmental Leader, “Companies that focus on the triple bottom line — economics, environment and social — are the ones that consistently do well by all standards.
Those using such guideposts are outperforming other broader indices, and they are also demonstrating that they are living their missions and ingraining their brands among their customers.”
A product design should not intend to cause unnecessary harm, and even look for any harms it might be causing unknowingly.
Although it’s undeniable that the impact on the environment can’t be neglected, the average customer is more discerning and concerned about the environment than ever before.
Key questions that should include in our decision-making are “How can we do better for the environment?”, “How can we reduce the negative impact on the environment?”,” How can we make our product better than the existing one?”.
It’s highly recommended to seek out these answers while fleshing out new product designs and products.
Have you ever heard of a brand called “SAOLA” before? It’s a recycled shoe whose uppers part are made with Plastic recycled bottles.
When I started SAOLA, I was adamant that I wanted to make our shoes as eco-friendly as possible, but I wasn’t willing to sacrifice comfort or style. Each pair of SAOLA shoes contains between four and five recycled PET bottles. It’s refreshing to be a part of a movement changing the perception of what eco-friendly style means.” — Guillaume Linossier
The most important thing to remember when designing products is that your idea should address your city and the public’s needs.
Designing your products and services with a focus on sustainability will help you make a difference in the community, not only for today but also for future generations.
A competitive product must address the above factors, such as cost, performance, aesthetics, schedule or time-to-market, and quality.
And over the more extended period, customers or users of a product will demand more and more, i.e., more performance at less cost.
Plan and Design process involves a lot of back and forth. So lessons from past experiences and moving ahead with the right decisions leverages an all-embracing design that stands out from others.
Define your audience, do proper research, and finally focus on building the product that solves those problems.
When you have a design mindset, you will see the world differently. Quite frankly, you can see the world that doesn’t exist yet. As you can see, a lot of our traditional design is problem-focused. However, modern-day science and technology easily allow us to leverage towards solution-focused mindset. That’s a major required shift of our thoughts on design thinking at this age.
Step out of your comfort zone and start your design thinking, let’s go and create a design that nobody has thought of yet!
Good Luck with your design. Happy Learning!
Mr. Anil Chitrakar — is a renowned Social Entrepreneur from Nepal who keeps inspiring a lot of Nepali youths through his leadership and works. He aspires youths to understand how the technological revolution could improve life for the better future of Nepal.
If you have any questions, comments, or concerns, please leave them in the comments section! I’d love to hear some feedback.