Product design for those who want to actually sell things

Improve your odds

Product design and development is a step that’s too often overlooked in the rush to start selling. Right now, many entrepreneurs are using the time afforded by the coronavirus (COVID-19) to do it right — actually look at the market and make some smart choices before jumping into a venture with both feet. Here we outline the three parts of proper product development.

It all starts with a good idea

In the summer of 1874, Alexander Graham Bell was watching the Grand River in Brantford, Ontario, when he started to think about currents and sound waves. This rumination led to Bell and Thomas Watson inventing the telephone in 1876, a product design that forever changed the way we communicate.

Over the next 100 years, the form and function of the telephone would evolve from phone boxes with magneto cranks to the rotary dial phones that surged in popularity in the 1950s. In the 60s, push-button phones hit the scene, followed by cordless phones that foreshadowed a future where we could wander at will, free and mobile.

Today, more than 5 billion people own a mobile phone. Entrepreneurs, take note! Your cell phone is a distant relative of Bell’s invention — it’s a perfect example of good product design and development.

Editorial note: Got a product with potential? Before you settle on a name for it, check to see if the matching domain name is available. This will serve as your web address and, if you’re successful, become a valuable business asset.

Product design in 3 parts

We know you’re eager to start production, but take it from those who’ve been there: spending some time on product design and development pays off. Here are the three stages:

  1. Find your focus.
  2. Understand the basics of problem solving.
  3. User analysis.

Let’s define product design first before we explain each of the steps.

What is product design?

In a nutshell, product design is the act of taking an idea and developing a product that solves a known problem.

The result can improve everyday life, meet emerging needs — even shape the way we interact with the world.

Product Design Fidget SpinnerIt’s that beautiful grey area where technology, science and art collide to create something that was previously believed to be unthinkable. In other words, it’s a field that sparks excitement in entrepreneurs because the challenge is just as fulfilling as the end result.

Take a moment to admire your cell phone.

This is the cordless phone reimagined, and yet it’s much, much more. Consider its shape, size and colour. Go beyond its physical structure and critically examine the user experience.

  • Is it easy for anyone to use?
  • Can it be improved?
  • How does it make you feel?

As we learn what good product design and development involves, apply this line of thinking to your own idea.

The components of good product design

There are three central components of good product design:

User Experience (UX)

UX is a human-first way of thinking about product design. The term was coined in the 1990s by Don Norman, a cognitive scientist. As Norman states, “User experience encompasses all aspects of the end-user’s interaction with the company, its services, and its products.”

Deep Read: The Fascinating History of UX Design: A Definitive Timeline

In short, UX is anything that humans can experience. The goal is to make that experience enjoyable and easy. UX is tied to interactions and the way it feels to use a product.

User Interface (UI)

UI is purely digital. It solves problems associated with form and function.

UI deals with the place where humans interact with machines or devices.

 

Take a look at your cell phone again. That touchscreen you interact with is UI. The app you use for your banking was built with UI design.

Good UI looks and feels intuitive (i.e. easy for humans to figure out). Thought is poured into every aspect of the design, from colour, typography, imagery, icons and buttons to responsiveness.

Quality

Product Design 3D Printer on Table
Thanks to 3D printers, you can quickly create a prototype for user testing.
Photo: ZMorph Multitool 3D Printer on Unsplash

Your product’s UI may be perfect but if the UX is slightly off, the quality of your product diminishes. Through prototyping, you will find the sweet spot for producing a quality product. Your users know quality when they experience it. They can’t be fooled.

Three steps to producing a good product

Anyone can think up a new product. Creating a product that people will pay for is another thing. Here are some helpful hints.

Step #1: Find your focus

Product design differs from sector to sector. Dive into an area that you are most passionate about and glean from those who have had success in that field.

The Government of Canada is a great resource for product design, research and development through a manufacturing lens.

Deep Read: Canada 150: 30 Canadian Product Designers Leading the Charge

Step #2: Understand the basics of problem solving

Take a second to consider how you find solutions to problems. Is your approach reactive or reflective?

Here are five stages of problem solving to keep in mind the next time you’re confronted with a challenge or hit a hurdle with your product design:

Empathize

Think about who you are solving the problem for. Go the extra mile to understand them through research and experiential learning. By deepening your understanding of your end user, you’ll be able to create a better product.

Define

What does your audience need? By clearly defining their needs, you can construct a framework that guides your solution.

Ideate

How many ideas or solutions can you come up with? Unload every thought that surfaces. Some ideas may seem silly or too extreme. That’s okay. Those ideas are just as valuable as the ones that hold promise.

Prototype

Can you materialize your idea? Through prototyping, you’ll discover new features, unearth new problems and refine your product to perfection.

Test

Product Design Man Looking at White BoardDoes your product work? The world is full of unwanted products. Test user interest in your idea through user research including:

  • Surveys
  • In-person interviews
  • Direct and indirect competitor analysis

This will put you on the path to creating a product people want.

Step #3: User analysis

Build out a user analysis by creating imaginary user personas. These are descriptions of the type of people most likely to use your idea.

Through the creation of personas, you will begin to understand how different groups of people use and view your product. Not everyone uses a product the same way, nor will they agree with the solution you’ve created. Through user analysis, you can establish a holistic perspective about your product and look at it in ways you never considered.

Even though the persona is made up, the data you’re basing your persona on is real.

Create an empathy map to remind yourself why you’re doing what you’re doing, and who you’re doing it for.

This will keep you connected to your mission.

Product Design Flight of Beer
Testing your product on real customers will help you tweak it til it’s perfect.

Product design and development pay off

In closing, remember that the most important part of product design is “design.” Once you grasp design principles and understand the roles of UI and UX in product development, you will be well on your way to creating a product that people will be happy to pay for.