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Introduction to Product Design

Product Design is what turns great ideas into great products. It is a fine blend of creativity and science, and it comes from a very long tradition of designing for the public. In this lecture, we will discuss all you need to know about Product Design.

What is Product Design?

Product Design is the process of imagining, conceptualizing, testing, iterating, and refining a product, so it’s made ready for its end-user. Product Designers spend a significant amount of time on each of the above-mentioned steps, which means that Product Design is a fine blend of research, strategy, industry knowledge, and creative thinking. To understand Product Design, it’s useful to define what we mean by a “product”. Products can be physical things you can place on the shelf of a store, such as a lightbulb. It can also be an intangible thing like software, a service, or even organized information such as a training course or a workshop. The result of a Product Designer’s work is called a product. It is what is offered to the end customer at the delivery stage of the Product Design process.
The Product Design process is built around the user and the goals of your business. The success of a product depends on how closely it lines up with the needs of the user and how it effectively solves the problems of a user in the context of their life and their work since these factors will influence how well it sells and how profitable it will be. It is also influenced by the constraints of your business, such as the budget available to develop it and the amount of time that can be dedicated to the Product Design process. For this reason, Product Design involves working very closely with both the people from within your business and the people in your target market, so you can make sure that your product is on the right track through its development journey.

The Product Design Process

Today, Product Design is less an end-to-end process, and more of a continuous lifecycle, since businesses are constantly reviewing and refining their products to ensure that they continue to meet the needs of a changing customer base. The steps in the Product Design cycle will vary from business to business. It depends on what works best for individual teams and what kind of product is being developed. However, we can generalize these basic steps as follows.

  • RESEARCH: This is the first stage of the Product Design process. It is to thoroughly understand the end-users and the goals of your business, to properly define the problem that your product is to solve, or the need it’s going to meet. This is where deep user empathy is required to develop a comprehensive understanding, as this will be foundational to the rest of the Product Design process. At this first stage, a Product Designer might use interviews, diary studies, survey questionnaires, secondary market research data, or any other tools and resources to best understand the end-users and the business context of the product being developed. It’s also when they will take a deep dive into the business requirements and goals for the product, considering questions like how the item should be priced and what the Return On Investment might be.
  • GENERATE IDEAS: This is the stage that probably comes to mind most intuitively when you think of Product Design. The idea generation stage is where creative thinking takes place, and Product Designers come up with as many potential solutions as possible through brainstorming and other techniques. It is often advised at this stage that all ideas should be accepted into the list of possibilities with no bias or judgment. However, it is not just a case of coming up with any and every possible idea. The idea generation stage is based on discoveries during the research stage that will guide the Product Design process and help narrow down the possible options.
  • REFINE: With several ideas created, the Product Designer must define their opinions and create product concepts that are thoroughly checked against the end-user needs to ensure that they are viable for onward development. They must also meet the business requirements that may involve the aesthetic design, any potential overlap, or integration with existing product lines, and whether it will be possible to realize the ideas within a set budget. Potential ideas also need to be checked against required standards for function and performance, depending on the industry and product type. Now is also the time when the circle can be widened beyond the Product Design team and bring in stakeholders from elsewhere in the business to feed back on the concepts based on their specific expertise.
  • VALIDATE: Concept testing is an important component of the refinement and validation stage. A concept-testing tool can help you to gather feedback on many aspects of your ideas, from the product features you have chosen to include the messaging that is presented to the end-user. You might bring in research tools like conjoint analysis and Max Diff analysis to help define the right mix of functions and features for your concepts.
  • PROTOTYPE AND TEST: The ideas that have made the grade can now be worked up into a prototype and tested further. In changing ideas into realities, any number of new considerations and challenges may appear, so there is likely to be significant tweaking at this stage. If the product is a physical one, you will be able to carry out tests on attributes that weren’t apparent to the end-user at the concept stage, such as weight or texture. So, you may also find that the feedback you gather at this stage is rich. It is worth noting that at this stage, an idea may yet turn out not to be viable. This is okay. You have a chance to go back to the beginning or pick up one of the other concepts that were developed in the previous stage.
  • ITERATE: Each time the prototype is being tested, discoveries will come to light that can help you improve the product. The iteration phases are when the improvements are made, and these phases sit in between the testing sessions. How many iterations you go through and how fast the cycle turns will depend on a few parameters, like the size of your team, the kind of testing you’re doing, the extent of the testing, and how much budget you have available.
  • DELIVER: When the product has reached a viable state, it can be put out into the market. However, this doesn’t mean that research, testing, and iteration grind to a halt. These processes will continue to run in the background, maintaining the quality of the product and performance over time.

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