What is Product Design?
Product design is the process of efficient and effective idea generation and development.
You may be surprised that one of the most frequent questions we get is: “What is product design?”.
I bet lawyers or doctors don’t often have to explain what their profession does! I can understand why – everyone has a doctor, many people have an accountant, even “my psychologist” (which developed as a practice around the same time as ‘industrial design’) has become a commonplace part of our language.
In everyday life however the only exposure most of us have to “Product Design” – is through experiencing the products that have been created by designers – the designers themselves, and what they do, are hidden.
Ask people to name a famous pop star and of course they can reel off lists of them. Yet ask people to name a famous designer and they might struggle to come up with Philippe Stark or if they’re fans of Apple – Jonathan Ive. This is fine, as most sensible designers have no interest in fame, but the downside is that you’re probably left wondering what product design can do for your business.
It must seem from the outside like we somehow magically just make products look good and… that’s about it. You wouldn’t be alone. We regularly hear phrases during briefings like; “I just want you to make this look cool” – usually by companies looking to find an easy win to out-sell the competition. Unless you’ve studied product design or worked with product designers before then it’s very easy to miss the real juicy thing on offer.
Even people who are in closely related fields like engineering tend to mistakenly think of us just as stylists, as “people who like colouring in”! So what’s missing in this picture?
What is the value of good product design?
The real value behind product design is that:
- It’s a robust and effective process. It’s a process that reliably creates products which are better for people to use, by identifying real human needs and creating real solutions. It is a process which raises the quality and reduces the cost of production. And perhaps most importantly it is the way to reduce the risk of development, by providing an incremental framework which focuses on solving the appropriate level of detail at any point in a project. And this reliably maximises the value of the end product in the smallest possible timeframe or cost.
- It’s professionally creative! To get a different and better future you need a way to heavily envision possibilities and solve probelms. Product Design offers a set of ‘creative tools’ that fit into the framework process – methods developed over a hundred years, to for example, analyse situations, to stimulate more original and prolific thinking or control complex risks.
- Most importantly it’s a profession of passionate, creative people. Product Designers bring a deep commitment to the craft and practical knowledge of materials and manufacturing. But good product designers are not just technicians, they’re also visonary strategists, willing to understand your business and then challenge assumptions and inherited thinking to give your business the best possible growth potential through your investment in new products.
I think product designers are genuinely very interesting people to have around, trained how to think creatively, they’re also practical (unlike some creatives) and strategic. So yes you can treat Product Designers as just stylists, and you’ll get beautiful looking things. But you’ll get so much more if you think of them as your strategic creative partners.
After all, would you buy a Ferrari to just park it outside as decoration?
Let’s get started