As the name indicates, the process of creating a new product for sale to customers is known as product design. Thought this definition tends to oversimplify, product design is actually a broad concept which encompasses a systematic generation and development of ideas that eventually leads to the creation of new products. Design experts work on concepts and ideas, eventually turning them into tangible products and inventions.
The product design expert works with art, science and technology to create these products. This increasingly complex process is now supported by evolving digital tools and techniques that reduce the involvement of a large team and help visualize a product in great deal before it is created.
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In this article, we look at the 1) product design process, 2) product design stages, 3) product design types, 4) factors affecting product design, 5) considerations in product design, and 6) examples of successful product designs.
1. PRODUCT DESIGN PROCESS
Every design team may follow a different process for product design and development. One process, outlined by Koberg and Bagnell, describes how to turn design ideas into products. The process flows from problem identification to brainstorming ideas, prototype creation and eventually creating the product. This is followed up the formal manufacture of the product and a critical evaluation to identify any improvements that may be needed.
This method includes three stages. The later two may need to be looked at repeatedly during the process.
At the beginning of the process there needs to be extensive research involving concrete facts and figures. This data then feeds into possible solutions to the problem at hand, and the best way to achieve these solutions. Formally, two stages are involved here:
- Accept Situation – The designers commit to the project and identifying a solution. Available resources are consolidated to reach this goal most efficiently
- Analyze – The team now collectively begins research to collect all relevant data to help reach a solution
Once the problem and potential solutions are narrowed, the final solution is identified and conceptualized in detail. This includes working out adherence to standards and how closely the visualized solution meets identified customer needs. One basic stage here is:
- Define – Here, the team identifies the key issue or issues. Using the problem conditions as objectives and constraints as parameters within which to operate, the team narrows down the information
At this stage, the solutions are turned into ideas and the best ones are highlighted. These ideas of design turn into prototypes on which actual products will be based. This stage can be broken down into 4 steps:
- Ideate – Different ideas and solutions are brainstormed here. The best idea bank is created when there is no bias or judgment towards ideas presented
- Select – The ideas brainstormed are narrowed down to a few which can give the best results. Plans for production can now be created
- Implement – A prototype can now be created and the plan becomes a product
- Evaluate – In the final stage, the prototype should be tested and any tweaks necessary should be made. If the prototype does now perform as anticipated, further ideas may need to be brainstormed.
2. PRODUCT DESIGN STAGES
Within the broad stages mentioned in the previous section, detailed stages can be followed in a systematic manner to design successful products. These stages include:
The Design Brief
A statement of intent, the design brief states the problem to be addressed. It serves as a starting point from where the design team can orient themselves. By itself however, it does not offer sufficient information with which to begin the actual design process.
The Product Design Specification (PDS)
A vitally important but often overlooked and misunderstood stage, the PDS document lists the problem in detail. Before working on producing a solution, there needs to be a deep understanding of the actual problem identified. This document should be designed after conversations with the customer and an analysis of the market and competitors. The design team should refer back to it often for correct orientation at later stages.
The Concept Design
With the PDS document as a guide, the design team will now begin to outline a solution. At this stage, the design is largely conceptual, with a framework of key components in place with details to a later stage. The details included at this stage will depend on the type of product being designed. It is important to understand both upstream and downstream concerns relating to the product at this point. These may include activities such as manufacturing, sales and production costs among other things. This early understanding of the value chain will help eliminate or reduce rework and multiple iterations.
In this stage, concept generation and evaluation are both a vital consideration. Multiple concepts, each fulfilling the product requirements previously identified are identified and then evaluated to decide the best way forward.
The Concept Generation
At this point, a design team may involve a larger audience to help brainstorm the details of concepts drawn up in the previous stage. A group that includes various expertise may end up being the most successful in terms of creative ideas and solutions. It is pertinent to encourage all ideas to be voiced as this increases the chances of innovation.
The Concept Evaluation
With a number of potential concepts in hand, a suitable design now needs to be chosen that fulfills the product design specifications previously generated. This document should serve as a basis for final design decisions. Again, a multi skilled team should be involved here so that all angles of the chosen design can be evaluated. The concept that is closest in solving the problem identified and fulfills the most design requirements will now be developed in detail.
The Detailed Design
At this point, the final concept has been chosen and most obvious kinks have been worked out. The concept is now designed in detail with the necessary dimensions and specifications. At this stage, it may be important to produce one of more prototypes to test the product in close to real scenarios. It becomes vital for the design team to work in close cooperation with other units such as manufacturing and logistics to ensure the practical aspects of production and supply.
Eliminating Design Iterations
Although traditionally sequential, multiple iterations within these stages can be reduced by asking the following questions:
- Manufacturing – Can we make the product at our existing facility?
- Sales – Are we able to produce what the customer wants?
- Purchasing – Do we have required parts available or do they need to be ordered?
- Cost – What will the design cost us to make?
- Transport – is the product sized for available transportation methods? Will there be any special transportation needs?
- Disposal – How will the product be disposed of at the end of its life?
3. PRODUCT DESIGN TYPES
Two basic categories encompass most product designs. These are:
Demand – Pull Innovation
Demand – Pull happens when a product design can directly take advantage of an opportunity in the market. A new design works towards solving an existing design issue. This happens either through a new product or a variation of an existing product.
Invention – Push Innovation
This innovation occurs with an advancement in technology or intelligence. This is driven through research or a creative new product design.
4. FACTORS AFFECTING PRODUCT DESIGN
One major factor that affects product design is the cost of production including material costs and labor costs. These in turn affect the pricing strategy, which needs to be in line with what the customer is prepared to pay for it.
The product needs to be user friendly and afford convenience in its function. Using ergonomic measurements, minor or major changes may need to be made to product design to meet essential requirements.
Whether the requisite materials are available easily is an important consideration in product design. In addition, an eye needs to be kept on new developments in materials and technology.
One major and obvious influence on the design on the product is the customer and their requirements. It is vital to capture customer feedback on any prototype as well as during the planning and conceptual stages. Even a technologically advanced and exciting feature may need to be removed if it causes dislike or negative feelings in an end user.
The company’s identity is a point of pride and as a matter of course, a product’s very design or color schemes and features may be determined by this identity. The logo may need to be featured in a specific manner or subtle or overt features of the company identity may need to be built into the design.
The product may need to appear stylish or of a certain shape. This form may end up determining the technology that it built into the product. This may in turn also affect the manufacturing process that needs to be followed.
The current fashion and trends may also affect a certain product’s design. Customers will want the most updated options and this needs to be considered during product design.
If a product is for a certain market with its own individual culture, this needs to be kept in mind during product design. A product acceptable in one culture may end up being offensive or not desirable in another one.
How many problems is the product trying to solve? The number of uses and functions a product has will impact its design.
Another consideration to product design is its impact on the environment. The average customer these days may be more discerning and concerned about the environment than before. Things to consider here may include whether the materials used are recyclable, how the product will be disposed of at the end of its life or how the packaging can be disposed of.
5. CONSIDERATION IN PRODUCT DESIGN
Product design is a complex process, since all the relevant stakeholders have different requirements from the product. An example of conflicting needs that will require attention during product design are:
The manufacturer will want the product to be created at the lowest cost possible, in order to maximize profit and ensure sales. A prohibitively expensive product will have higher price tag and may drive away customers. Often, this may mean a product redesign or a compromise on quality.
Price, Appearance, and Prestige Value
The customer will always want a well presented product with a functional yet aesthetically appealing design. They will also want it to be priced reasonably. The appearance may not always be vital to function, but if there are multiple nearly similar products in the market, the look of the product may become the deciding factor.
There needs to be equal focus on the functionality of the product or how well it performs. This is a given as the product foremost needs to perform as it claims to. The end user may purchase for the external appearance. But long term satisfaction and repeat usage will only occur if the product performs at an optimal level
Product designers, manufacturers and maintenance workers may all favor a modular construction for a product. The more easily different parts can be worked on individually, the more versatility the product offers. A re-design effort may only need to focus on changing certain parts rather than the whole, the manufacturer can easily tweak elements without changing entire production processes and maintenance workers may not need to disassemble everything, thereby reducing repair time and effort.
6. EXAMPLES OF SUCCESSFUL PRODUCT DESIGN
The Apple iPhone
Apple is consistently ranked as one of the most innovative companies in the world. Though not always successful initially, Apple has managed to create unique products with superior designs that have great appeal with end users. The Apple iPhone revolutionized the cell phone market with its innovative features, streamlined design and an entire supporting universe through the app store. Though it was not the pioneer in smart phones, Apple is extremely successful because it created a beautiful product that gives a superior user experience to a consumer.
The Porsche Cayenne
A respected and coveted sports car maker, Porsche entered the SUV market a few years ago. The sports utility vehicle is thought to be boring and the category has broad generic definitions of utilitarian. Porsche, through the Cayenne, endeavored to bring together the rational and the emotional. Through focused product design, the company managed to build an SUV that has all the necessary features of this category of car but with the driving experience of any other Porsche car. This resulted in successful sales and made this car a breakthrough product into a new market for a premium brand.
Launched by a young, innovative start-up, this company launched a cloud based, cross platform productivity application called Wunderlist in 2010. It is now one of the most popular apps of its kind and boasts millions of users. It successfully launched across five different platforms in a brief span of time. Data is seamlessly updated across multiple devices and the design is simple but effective
When designing a new product or re-designing an existing, it is pertinent for the company to clearly identify what problem it is attempting to solve through this new product. It is vital to involve a multi skilled team in order to ensure a critical view of all ideas and in fact to offer a wider and more innovative pool of ideas to choose from. It is also very important to consider the customer and their requirements and desires from the very beginning of the product till the very end. It is also a good idea to not get emotionally attached to a design. This can make the team lose focus of what is to be done in order to create and successful and lasting product. Instead, a critical and analytical view of the process should be taken, with any changes that are necessary being made.
With this approach and mindset, creating successful product designs will become a more systematic process and the resulting products will leave a long term impact on the consumers.
Read more about the overall process of Product Development here: Product Development – An Overview: From Idea To Product