What is product design? Do you really know what it means?
Is it the people that conceptualize physical products? If you’re a strictly digital company, does product design even apply to you?
It turns out that product design is a wide-reaching process of creating consumer-centric things that foster increased revenue and brand growth – and these things can be tangible, digital, and everything in between, too.
In this article, we’ll be outlining exactly what product design is, how you can implement successful product design best practices, how design thinking plays a role, and more.
Table of Contents
- What is Product Design?
- 3 Product Design Best Practices to Follow
- How Do Design Thinking & Product Design Correlate?
- Measuring the Success of Product Design
What is Product Design?
In layman’s terms, product design is the process of creating a product from beginning to end.
Sounds simple enough, right?
Well, sort of. Because we live in the digital age where so many of our interactions, conversions and products are online, the concept of a product has transformed from a physical item you purchase in a store to something else.
At its most basic level, a product is a solution that’s sold to fulfill a need.
To me, product design involves a few key attributes:
- it involves human interaction,
- it needs to accommodate a range of users,
- it exists in a competitive space where users have options,
- it involves some degree of mass production or distribution,
- and it requires considering tradeoffs between costs, features, and performance.
So, what types of things can product designers make?
Essentially, a “product” is anything — a mobile app, a new digital feature, a tangible item, etc. — that solves a consumer “problem” and propels a business forward in their market.
And, of course, product designers are the people who conceptualize and create those things.
The options are almost limitless, which is what makes successful product design so difficult to reduce to a formula.
Products can be durable, like appliances, or consumable, like ice cream. They can be tangible, physical items or intangible like an app or service. They span consumer and commercial markets.
Although the items that fall within the spectrum are difficult to define, that also means the possibilities for the products you want to design are practically endless, too.
3 Product Design Best Practices to Follow
Because product design encompasses such a wide range of industries, platforms and business needs, it can be difficult to know how to execute a successful product design exercise from start to finish.
Here are some key best practices that can help brands of all sizes, industries, and incomes develop a product that will resonate with their target demographic successfully.
1. Determine the Rationale and Realities of the Product
Before you pull the trigger and start designing your new product, take the time to understand what your product should look like logistically.
What will it solve for users? How will you create it? What features does it need? How much will it truly cost you to produce?
Successful product design sits at the elusive intersection of “feasible,” “desirable” and “viable,” with the end-user at the center.
- “Feasible” means the idea is technically possible – it works safely and effectively and can be mass-produced reliably and economically.
- “Desirable” looks at the user experience and whether the concept truly fills a need for the consumer and has legs from marketing, sales, and usability perspective.
- Finally, there’s “viability,” which means evaluating what will be necessary for business success, such as market size and pricing.
Of course, each of these pillars of product design are interconnected — and balancing all of these considerations is critical to success.
For instance, a personal jetpack might be technically feasible and desirable to end users, but if they’re only willing to pay $200 for it and it costs $500 to manufacture, it’s going to fail.
At Delve, one of our primary techniques to strike the right balance is using multidisciplinary teams that come at a challenge from multiple angles.
We also use rapid prototyping to iterate and pressure test ideas through all three lenses (Feasible, Viable and Desirable) to gain valuable early feedback that helps direct the development process.
2. Create a Relationship with the Product End Users
It is also crucial for brands to build a close-knit relationship with the consumers who will be using the product.
This will help them understand which features consumers really desire and have a better grasp on the market, ensuring that they create products that are truly helpful and find success quickly.
Develop an intimate relationship with the end users of your products — and don’t be overly distracted by the people indirectly interacting with your products such as distributors and sales. They are crucial to your success but not sufficient to drive innovation.
Instead, keep your focus on the end user because lasting success involves deeply understanding their needs. You also need to be able to clearly articulate your product’s value proposition in a meaningful and differentiating way.
Plus, as we mentioned above, product design always involves trade-offs. Brands need concrete processes in place to navigate them effectively, because elements such as risk, price, features, function, time to market and other items need to be balanced strategically in order to pull off a successful product design project.
3. Understand Your Brand, Your Mission, and Your Place in the Market Thoroughly
Although not exclusively, many of the world’s best brands are built by products. And a product is one of the most intimate connections a user can have with a brand.
However, it is also one of the least curated, meaning you can shape the experience quite a bit, but total control is unlikely.
So, before you launch a product design project, it’s important to truly understand the role, power, and value of your brand. Does the product you’re considering fit your brand’s job and your customer base?
It’s crucial to understand the appeal of your brand and make sure the product mirrors those qualities through visual brand language for physical products, interaction design for digital, and service design.
And, of course, the overall experience needs to be designed to reinforce your customers’ positive view of your brand.
How Do Design Thinking & Product Design Correlate?
You may have heard about a process called “design thinking” in passing — particularly when people discuss product design. So, how do these two ideas relate?
Design thinking represents a really powerful and structured methodology for attacking product design where there’s not one single correct solution.
Essentially, design thinking is a way of viewing a project from the consumers’ perspective — whether that’s designing a new product, overhauling business operations, developing a marketing campaign, or something else.
This shifted point of view aims to naturally place a higher emphasis on user experience and functionality. When executed properly, it results in successful campaigns and products.
Design thinking involves a discovery phase where the designer intentionally tries to distance herself from preconceived notions and look from a fresh perspective. The process supports recognizing the possibilities to reframe a challenge – that we might not be thinking of solving the right problem.
Reframing can lead to innovative solutions that are more meaningful to users. The next steps in the methodology involve a rapid succession of ideation, prototyping, and testing with users to quickly iterate concepts. This is how we bridge the gap between the great idea and producing the reality.”
If you’re thinking of testing out product design within your business, stepping into the design thinking process listed below could help you release a better, more well-rounded product on the first try.
- Empathize – what are your users’ pain points?
- Define – what is the problem you want to solve?
- Ideate – what features and functionalities will solve the problem?
- Prototype – build the product.
- Test – does the product work well? Make adjustments and continue testing until it’s ready for market!
Let’s talk about how we can help move your business forward.