Product Design – Do it for love

by | Dec 6, 2019

I have a soft spot in my heart for the design phase of product development. Not just because it can be sexy (because it is) but because it is about building a personal connection and, wait for it... love with your user base. It is no coincidence that all of the most successful product development initiatives I have seen or been a part of placed a massive effort on design before investing heavily in engineering.

Over the course of my career I have been able to wear quite a few different hats during the design phases of product development initiatives (ID, ME, EE, Machinist). Throughout all of these experiences, one thing that has repeatedly been ingrained in my head, said beautifully by one of Ben Einstein's mentors in the Illustrated Guide to Product Development, “you can only learn how much you design sucks when you watch people use it”.

Ben Einstein’s Illustrated Guide to Product Development does a great job describing a startup’s journey through the Ideation, Design, Engineering, and Validation stages of product development. I have outlined many of the lessons learned by the startup in the Design phase here:

Customer Development and Feedback
  • During conversations with users, have a script and stick with (as opposed to open conversations in Ideation phase). Take detailed notes. Track NPS. Don’t ask what people would change, simply observe how they use it. Don’t get caught up in personal biases.

  • Physical Product. Depict the details of all aspects of product journey including: Packaging, sales, unboxing, setup, first use, repeated use of special use cases, customer support, end-of-life.
  • App/Web. Traditional black and white wireframes of the digital interface can be utilized to get a good conceptual idea of how users will react to your product.

Looks-like Prototypes
  • Sketches. Use relatable forms and products to depict a large range of physical forms. High level works well to get a direction going.
  • Form. Quick and cheap is the only rule here. Build rough models with foam core, cardboard, clay, or any other medium. Check to make sure the size and geometry “feels right”.
  • UX / Design Language. Highlight specific details of the user experience, ex lighting, sound, graphics. Determine the design elements that are used to communicate visually and reduce confusion.
  • CMF - Color, Material, Finish. This can be done digitally (many industrial designers specialize in this) to quickly determine the final look of a product.
  • Final Renders. A high quality digital mockup of a product generally includes all previous steps: form, size, iconography, UX, color, texture, and materials. These renders should be used as the bases for nearly all marketing material. Look at Apple as gold standard for utilization of renders.
  • SW/Web Mockups. High fidelity mockups of digital interfaces can be extremely helpful in defining your brand’s user experience.
  • Packaging. Iterate until the design, user experience, and cost feel right.

After going through this whole process, it is extremely important to get the product back to customers to test assumptions. As Ben says, “It’s very common to make two ore three to get an excellent looks-like prototype. Customers and investors should be able to quickly understand your product be interacting with this model.”

To conclude, I wish that the Feedback Gathering gods grant you speed, fortitude, and the best-of-luck during your product’s Design Phase! 😉

PS - I had the honor of watching J Mays give a mind-blowing presentation on “The 5 Things that Matter Most” with regards to great design last year at the International Design Conference 2019 (quick summary here). @ IDSA, pretty pretty please publish his gift to the community!
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