Product Design

What is Product Design?

October 2, 2018

Product design is a very encompassing term that is often misunderstood.

It refers to the multi-stage process of creating usable products or services, from concept and design through to prototyping, manufacturing and marketing.While aesthetics play a huge role in product design, the entire process is much more complex, we like to think Product Design is where art meets science & Engineering. Truth is, product design is about people as we discuss in more detail here . Product design encompasses, Sculpture, Ergonomics, Material Science, Engineering, Science & Engineering, 3D Visualisation, Concept Sketching,  UX Design, User Work Flow Analysis, Mechanical Design, Design for manufacture, Rapid Prototyping, injection moulding technical design, metal casting technologies, Market research, Marketing and Business Strategy, among others. Its Innovating as an art-form, that's why everyday we are learning.Great product designers will be able to marry all the elements of creative thinking with analytical and technical skills. By bridging the gaps between engineering, design and marketing, they can come up with aesthetically pleasing products that are innovative and commercially viable.

A Step by Step Guide to Product Design

One thing to note is that the term product design is more commonly used in the UK than its counter part Industrial Design, more commonly used in the US. ( They are not strictly the same thing, however that debate is outside the scope of this article ) It is significant however, as the term Product Design in the US has started to bleed over to the UK. Sometimes people really mean UX Design or Digital Product Design instead. Global social channels transfer this language quicker than ever. Here at Flynn, we often make the distinction between Physical and Digital Product Design while there are commonalities to both - essentially a user journey. Yes we see the user journey even with a humble screwdriver or even a kitchen bin.

1. Discovery

We are in the business of making things better. Discovery is investigating a product area of problem to get to the heart of the matter. This almost always begins with solving a problem. Be that increasing a products market potential, reducing material waste, creating the best GPS cat tracking collar on the market, or this years most exciting reusable non spill- coffee cup.

A. Defining your goals and strategies

A business without a goal will inevitably fail; the same goes for products. Without a vision, you will not have anything to guide you throughout the process.We work with our clients in Workshop, to understand the key objective “why are we doing this?”. This goal will also help set boundaries, by allowing you to stay focused on the steps that will move you closer to your vision.If the product goals are the destination, then strategy shows you the way to that destination. Usually via Workshop with clients, we ask them what they intend to achieve with the product. We have come to call this the "problem statement". Often a client starts with their solution, but we need to know in the most distilled fashion what is the purest picture of the problem. Think about it like working your way back to from a branch in a tree, to the tree trunk. From there we can look up in the Concept phase at a full canopy, instead of limited solutions, driven by assumptions you inherited from the client.

B. Research

At the heart of every product is the customer. Spend an ample amount of time researching who they are. You can do this through user interviews, online surveys, or market research.Social media and email marketing are both very powerful means of conducting market research, so look to leverage your social following and marketing lists, by asking questions and getting genuine feedback. Your existing customers are one of the best assets you have in this respect.When conducting marketing research, you should be looking to get ask the following:

  • What are the problems and challenges they face?
  • What are their pain points?
  • What tasks take the most time or cost the most money?
  • What do they really value?
  • What solutions have they previously sought to solve their problems?
  • How did these previous solutions work out for them?

You should use the information you get from customer feedback to flesh out a user persona. These are like profiles of the typical customer and will act as a reminder of who you are aiming your product at, anchoring you to reality by presenting a real human face instead of a bunch of abstract ideals. You already have a clear idea of your market, how they think, and what solutions they look for, so you can now design your product around that.

2. Analysis and Brainstorming

Once you get the results of your research, you need to sit down with your team, look at the data, and start brainstorming ideas. You can even print out your user personas and hang them on the wall, so everyone can look at them during the ideation phase.At the end of this stage, you should have the following information:

  • Customer journey

Map out your customer journey before, during, and after product usage.You can use various techniques like sketching (drawing by hand), wireframing (a visual guide of the page’s structure and hierarchy of key elements which can either be a hand-drawn or digital sketch), or storyboarding (a scenario describing how users interact with the product much like a comic strip).The idea here is to come up with an interface that your users will find easy to respond to. Is it solving your user’s pain points? Can they find what they are looking for? Is it easy for them to look for what they need?

3. Creating prototypes and iterations

During this phase, you will create prototypes (experimental models of your ideas) that are in line with user needs and the analysis you conducted during the discovery stage.These prototypes will then be tested, by your team and with potential end users. Start slow and small. Introduce only the basic features of your product, make sure your users understand how to use it, and then gather their feedback.Prototyping is an iterative process, so each set of feedback will help you modify your prototype (whether it be positive or negative). You’ll see your models grow in breadth and depth the more feedback you get, as well as identifying problems that you hadn’t envisaged in the design phase.

4. Testing and validations

This phase will help your team see that the design that you’ve conceptualised actually works. Testing can take the form of:

  • In-house testing, wherein your own team will use the product and give their feedback.
  • Usability testing, where you’ll find/hire participants, then gather their feedback. You can even do guerrilla testing like approaching potential users in a coffee shop and asking them to use your prototype.
  • Diary study, where you ask participants to keep a diary over X amount of time while they use your prototype.

The number of participants is not set in stone. In fact, a Neilsen study found that it takes just five users to pinpoint 85% of usability problems. But some experts contest this and instead opt to gather more participants the more complex a product gets.You also have the option to use low-fidelity or high-fidelity prototypes.A low-fidelity prototype is a basic sketch, whether hand-drawn or digital, that you then let your participants use. This will help you validate your design.High-fidelity prototypes, on the other hand, are almost close to the final product. These are interactive and functional, which will then allow you to dive deep into the flow of the product and its actual usability.The idea here is to keep testing until you end up with the design that is easy, simple, and efficient for your users. You can even conduct A/B testing if you’re struggling to choose between two prototypes.

5. Launch the product

Once the results are in, you can now work with developers to start building the product itself. The marketing team will also be in touch with you to make sure the product design is consistent with your brand’s value prop and messaging.Post-launch, product design continues. You will gather more feedback as you grow your user base. Keep conducting A/B tests to respond to customer comments and improve the product.

Placing Users At The Core of the Product

Product design goes way beyond the aesthetics and artistry involved in creating a catchy looking end product. It is an entire system aimed at crafting products that will meet your customers needs, whilst standing out from your competitors.Make sure that your users’ needs and wants are at the very centre of the product design process. Your product might seem like the best thing since sliced bread to you and your team but if it’s not addressing anyone else’s problems in new and innovative ways, then it isn’t commercially viable.

We provide businesses with product design consultancy, industrial design, prototype design & related services.

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