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How to design a successful product

This article focuses on the main elements that determine a successful product, and why it's important for a digital economy.

What is product design?

‘When designing products, always remember that you are designing for people.’ – Nick Babich, Developer

Product design is the holistic process of blending business goals and consumer needs to help design and develop consistent products from start to finish. Product design is the process of thinking, creating, and iterating products that solve and exceed consumers’ concerns or needs by using creative solutions.

Simply put, it involves the process of:

  • identifying an opportunity
  • defining the problem
  • designing and developing a solution for that problem
  • validating the solution with customers.

Iconic examples of high-performing product designs include the Coca-Cola bottle, the Vespa scooter, and the iPod.

The basic elements

The basics of designing a product require getting these initial three elements right:

  1. Function: The function needs to be the centre of any design. You need to understand what the product must achieve as well as what your consumer will expect.
  2. Style: This makes all the difference to your product. If consumers need to choose between purely functional and something aesthetically pleasing as well, they will select the latter option.
  3. Cost: This should be conducted by cost-benefit analysis to see if your product is extracting value from sales or if less money could be spent to yield the same results.

Why is effective product design important for a digital economy?

Between the unpredictable changes and rising consumer expectations, product design has become crucial in today’s digital economy.

The digital economy encapsulates a wide range of economic activities that rely on the use of digitised knowledge and information as central factors of production. With this in mind, companies are increasingly needing to keep ahead of their competitors, and design can act as the link between effective user experience and the digital economy.

Steve Baty, Co-founder, Principal and Director of design company Meld Studios, states that: ‘design has two important goals: delivering a good solution – getting the design right – and solving a significant and meaningful problem – getting the right design’.

Product implementation

Often, a company is great at developing the right design, but often falls short when it comes to product implementation and usage with customers. Consider Apple’s error when they eliminated scroll arrows in their OS X Lion operating system. Customers were unhappy with the decision because they had become so accustomed to the scroll arrows in previous models, so they found this decision to be counterintuitive.

The best solution to problems like this is to focus on solving the problems that have significance to people – so, providing value to your customers. You want to build products that you know your customers will love, and not what you think they want.

Product kick-off

Often, as a product kicks off, one of the first traps people fall into is to measure their product success by revenue. The most valuable question you can ask as a product manager is whether your consumers love your product. When identifying a successful product, you want to consider the following:

  • the breadth of product use
  • frequency of use
  • depth of use
  • efficiency
  • customer satisfaction.

So, when starting the design process of a product, it is important to keep this question in your mind: ‘How can you better identify product value to help avoid mistakes in creating the wrong product?’.

Asking this question puts you ahead in product development, as you are trying to place user experience at the heart of your product design, and you are assessing whether a product is not just attractive and usable, but also useful in that it provides value.

What contributes to a successful product?

Robert Cooper and Elko Kleinschmidt, creators of the widely used Stage-Gate product development methodology, assessed over two hundred product launches to determine the key factors related to product success.

Despite these factors being refined over time, they remain broadly the same and include the following:

  • A superior product that delivers benefit to its users: You need to learn about your consumer, and understand and empathise with their needs and concerns to provide creative solutions built from customer feedback cycles.
  • Planning before developing: Conduct proper research of your product, as you need to ensure you understand the product before beginning development.
  • Technological synergy and quality: Consider how far you can comfortably stray from current technology to develop and build a product without displacing customers.
  • Marketing synergy and quality: Research existing marketing processes to determine how well your product sits within them.
  • Market attractiveness: You need to assess how big your market is and identify which direction it is going.

If you’d like to learn more about how to make a successful product, check out the full online course, below.

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Product Management Essentials

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