New product design is a lot like art. Creativity and vision come together to produce something new, attractive, and bold. But product designers have a different set of challenges than the artist. Product designers have to create with the users in mind. Their creations need to be useful. They need to be accepted into the hands of consumers where, instead of being mounted on the wall, they go on the workbench or in the toolbox ready for work.
Product design is challenging. Most people aren’t product designers, but it’s their needs the designer has to consider. This is no small task since people often don’t even know what their needs are until they have them met!
While the designer and the artist have different tasks, product design is still somewhat an art, requiring skill, practice, and intuition. The following 10 product design tips are helpful when thinking about a new design project for yourself or you business.
10 Product Design Tips
1. It Has to Be Useful
It might seem obvious, but it’s very important to keep this in mind. It goes without saying that the product itself must be useful — otherwise, it wouldn’t really even make sense to call it a product. Utility is always going to be the number-one priority. But usefulness doesn’t just apply to the product itself. The designer should be applying the usefulness requirement to every aspect of the design.
Every component of the design should serve a purpose. There should be a point to it. If there isn’t, you should consider very seriously whether that element ought to be included in the design at all. This goes back, in part, to the fact that as a designer you are not designing for yourself. You are designing for others. Any aspect of your design that is not obviously useful is just one more thing that could get in the way or detract from the user’s experience of the product.
2. Function Over Features
Now we cut even deeper. Even if an element of the design is useful, it still might get in the way. For creative types, whether they be designers, artists, composers, or poets, the temptation is always there to include too much. Too many features, too many notes, too many colors, too many words. Sometimes it’s easier to add components than it is to take them away.
As a product designer, you need to focus on function over features. It is easy for a great product to get bogged down with too many bells and whistles. As a designer, you may be thrilled at how versatile your design is. But sometimes people don’t want a clever device — they want something that just works. The more features there are, the less intuitive and simple a product becomes. Sometimes a screwdriver is better than a swiss-army knife.
Think about the purpose of your product. What is your mission statement? What is your mandate as a designer?
3. Remain Focused
The goal is for your product to become popular in your industry so people will buy it. That means it’s going to have to compete in a competitive market environment. It’s very rare for a product to succeed as a jack of all trades. To corner a niche of you market, you want to focus on a single need and you want to offer the best way for consumers to satisfy it.
Don’t try to design a product that can do everything. Design a product that can do one thing the best.
Sometimes, designing a product to make a task safer, won't always make that task easier at the same time.
4. Solve Real-World Problems
Every successful product was popular because it solved an existing problem. If your product isn’t solving a problem, then it becomes a piece of art — and probably not one that any galleries would be interested in. The problem has to be an existing problem, it has to correspond to a need which is already felt.
It is much more difficult to convince people they have a problem they didn’t know they had than it is to offer them a solution for a problem they’re already aware of. Product marketers and designers will sometimes try to frame things that aren’t really problems as problems, but unless consumers agree about what they think their problems are, it will be hard to gain any traction with them.
The design process should begin with a specific real-world problem in mind and should expand from there with the goal of addressing it.
5. Aesthetics Are Important
We’ve already gone on a length about the importance of functionality and practicality. But let’s not get carried away with thinking that performance is all that matters. The look and feel of a consumer product are just as central to good design as functionality.
This is just as true for software and digital products as it is for hardware and tangible goods. A good designer must have a sense of aesthetics. This is one of the areas where industrial designers show their value.
For most consumer products, simplicity is an asset. Elegance tends to trump ostentatiousness. The product needs to look good while fitting in with the rest of the gear the new owner has. Most products don’t want to grab all the attention in the room. On the other hand, sometimes they do. Understand your market.
6. Attention to Detail Matters
Little things do matter. Fit, form, polish — while these things might not immediately jump out at people, the cumulative effect of many imperfections can make all the difference in the world. Getting the details right can really impress consumers, especially in the age of mass-production and cheap disposable goods. Treat every component of your product with respect. If you have an eye for the details, buyers will notice.
7. Good Designs are Simple
Users need to be able to quickly and intuitively understand how a product is supposed to work. You cannot guarantee that they will always use it that way, but you need to make sure that your product is not complicated to use.
Users will quickly become frustrated and uninterested in any product which doesn’t work for them. They will not hesitate to switch to a product that does work. Always try to see your product from the perspective of someone who has never interacted with it before. How could it be mis-used? What might be confusing? Don’t assume something is obvious just because it is obvious to you.
8. Be Innovative
Very few products offer something that is wholly new and totally revolutionary — whatever their marketing copy might say. The reality is that most new inventions and products are improvements to an already existing method. For anyone to be interested in your product, it has to be innovative, and it has to be innovative in a way that will connect with users. You’ve got to have an angle.
9. Design for Longevity
Good design is timeless, and if you design your product well, it will last the test of time. Long-lasting products are more valuable to consumers, better for the planet, and are a testament to the skills of the designer. Think of all the great vintage items you have in your home or grew up with. Antiques, vintage clothing, old cars — these things are still with us today because the people who designed them built them to last. Good design never goes out of style.
10. Design is Top Heavy
When working on your design, it’s important to remember that the final phases of the design process can take up the majority of your time and effort. Getting the product from nearly-done to fully complete might only be 10% of the design, but it can take 50% of your energy. But this investment of time and energy in the late game is worth it. These are the details that make the difference between an okay product and an exceptional one.
This is where you work out the critical details and put on the finishing touches that will set your product apart from the competition — from the work of designers who didn’t go the extra mile at the end.