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A Layman’s Guide to Product Design

The key to successful product design and what the process entails.

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Modern consumerism has created a market bombarded and overflowing with products catering to every one of the needs voiced. While we see unchecked consumerism on one hand, we also see a rise in conscious consumption—customers demanding to know the nitty-gritty about the sourcing and production of their goods, down to the last intimate detail. This has led to the creation of buzzwords like “sustainability,” “eco-friendly,” “organic,” “locally sourced,” etc. to entice buyers.
Wherever one lies on the spectrum of consumerism, it is agreeable that designing a product that will catch the eye and make its mark is a tough nut to crack. It is evident that product design must be consumer-centric to be successful. So, how do successful product design companies manage to do it?

Product Design: The Process

Unearthing Unmet Needs

The iPhone story goes as follows: The original iPhone had a stylus like every other touch phone of that period. A few days before the launch, Steve Jobs lost the stylus and couldn’t use his phone. He then postponed the launch till Apple created a touch screen that eliminated the use of a stylus. He had stumbled on that unmet need–what happens if my stylus is lost or broken? The resulting device blew the competition out of the water and the rest as they say is history.
Many a time, like in the example above, a consumer cannot explicitly voice their needs. It remains for the designer to conduct a deep dive into the consumer’s lives to unearth this treasure that will help set the product apart. To do so, the designer must live like the customer’s shadow, always observing, but not judging the consumer’s actions. By doing so, the designer can find out what the consumer seeks to achieve, what prevents them from doing so, and what value they cherish above everything else.
Should your design meet the consumer’s unvoiced needs, it creates a market for itself. If it matches their cherished values, the consumer will flaunt it and inadvertently help sell more. A good way to do this is to create User Personas. A User Persona defines an archetype of the intended user of a Hero so to speak. This persona defines the user from a physical as well as emotional point of view. It helps understand what drives the users’ decisions to purchase based on ergonomics, aesthetics, and price sensitivity.

Understand Your Market

While you may have unearthed the users’ unmet needs, it is quite likely that someone else may have stumbled upon the same and has an offering already serving a part of that need. Before allocating valuable resources, it is essential to understand the market that the product seeks to address.
Market research helps create the right product market fit. Good market research asks questions that help create your niche. Some of these could be:
  • What is the overall market size for a product like this? How many can we sell?
  • Are there other products that offer part or whole of the service we are envisaging?
  • If yes, what are the gaps in the unmet needs that this product is not serving?
  • What will be the USP of our product?
  • What is the price the user is willing to pay for our product/service?
  • What are the current market trends? Are they in favor of the product?

User Resarch Helps Us Better Understand

Spec it Out

You now have enough data with you regarding macro and micro factors that help decode the user’s decision-making process. This data will be both qualitative as well as quantitative in nature. It has to be collated and reworked to create a product design specifications document–a live document that evolves throughout the design journey.
A good PDS helps create parameters that matter to the user and against which ideas can be evaluated. These parameters are simple to understand and can be measured either physically or through user surveys. This approach helps remove personal biases at the time of selection of a direction and optimizes the use of resources required.

Ideate, Ideate, Ideate

Do not think. Do. The process of design evolves by creating multiple concepts wherein the designer keeps asking the question, “ What else can I do?” Ideation can either be solo or team-based or a co-creational activity. In fact, we recommend that Ideation be a co-creational activity. It helps get stakeholder buy-in right at the start of the process, encourages the designers, and helps avoid taking paths that are less likely to have further traction.
A good ideation process defers judgment till the time allotted. This helps design without prejudice and unearth solutions that have an Aha! moment. Ideation can be carried out through paper storming, napkin sketches, and mind mapping to name a few. Eventually, all ideas are built up as sketches as it provides a visual of what you intend to do.
A 360 deg product ideation covers how the product will attract the user, engage them with the least effort and fulfill their goals. The journey will cover the usage and storage of the product and focus on how using it can become a habit.
Once your ideas are out, it’s time to filter the wheat from the chaff. The measurable parameters that you have distilled from your spec sheet act as a sieve allowing only the promising ideas to go forward.

Prototype, Test, Refine and Redefine

It’s time to see the product in action! A prototype of the product is crafted. While it isn’t its final form, the prototype allows for the demonstration of the product and helps in unlocking its capabilities. It also makes space to test the functionality of the design and check its limits and shortcomings.
Prototypes are good for testing on users. Unchaperoned user behavior often throws up surprising insight into how the product is likely to be used. This helps course correct early in the process saving time and money.
Prototypes vary along with the intended function. They can be crude touch-and-feel mockups or be refined like the final article. Some prototypes can be manufactured using prototyping processes like 3D printing or CNC machining while others require tooling up. Prototypes also help get consumer confidence and raise funds if you choose to crowdfund to develop and validate your product.

Engineering

While design provides the user touch points, engineering delivers the guts and the underlying invisible experience. Engineering can decide how tight a page banding feels to how the engine roars. This ability has been currently branded as experiential engineering.
Engineering done right helps save time and money not only at the time of development but throughout the life of the product. Product engineering encompasses mechanical/electrical engineering as well as software development. The engineering process often follows a path similar to the design process. Concepts are shared to determine the optimal way forward. Prototypes are built to verify and validate those concepts. The engineering design gets refined after every round of prototyping.
Any engineering has to be backed up by a thorough and disciplined validation process. Validation is carried out by computer simulation and real-world testing. Computer Simulation helps predict the behavior and allows for rapid and economical course correction. Real World testing delivers the ultimate proof that your product is ready to be introduced to the world.

Manufacturing

Your product has to be made in a manner that delivers the best experience at the lowest cost. The way to achieve this is to choose the right manufacturing processes at the time of design. Manufacturing process selection depends upon the volume of production you envisage.
From machining for low volumes to injection molding/pressure die casting for mind-boggling numbers, the right process selection will deliver the experience that makes your product outstanding. It also can create an entry barrier for your competitors trying to copy your design.
Your engineering team has to work with the manufacturers to optimize your product. This is a process called Design for Manufacturing and Assembly or DFMA for short. This process ensures that not only is the manufacturing process optimal but also assembly times and mistakes are reduced to a minimum.

Outro

Now that you have taken the plunge to bring your product to reality, it’s good to have a helping hand to navigate these choppy waters. At Bang Design, we deliver a complete experience using our in-house expertise and those of our alliance partners to help fulfill your vision. To know more, do reach out to bang@bangid.com

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