A Broad Definition

The term “Product Design” is becoming more prevalent in today’s tech-oriented society, but people often forget about an entire component of product design. It’s not just app development, or making the next Spotify or Yelp. What about the phone that you’re using to view those apps? Your computer? The chair you’re sitting in while you do it? Many people attribute the amazing user experience to the software inside a device. But if you only consider the software, then you’re forgetting about the device itself.

Product Design is the process of solving a problem by methodically and creatively developing a solution. This applies to digital devices, websites, apps, and even your furniture or the page layout of the magazine on your nightstand. Anything that reaches a consumer is a product. It may be weird to realize that nearly everything around you is a carefully crafted user experience, but chances are, someone designed it. However, some designs are better than others. Read on to learn how to become a great product designer.

Defining the Problem

While Product Design can be explained generally, a true understanding involves internalizing the associated processes. The first is to define the problem and the project’s constraints. This process consists of answering a lot of questions. A good product designer knows not just how to answer these questions, but how to generate them to push the idea farther. What problem are you trying to solve? What’s your price point? Are there physical constraints, like it needing to fit in your hand or on the kitchen counter? It’s no use coming up with a state-of-the-art device if it’s way out of your budget to design or if your consumers would never be able to afford it.

Brainstorming and Empathizing

After you know what problem you’re trying to solve, then you can actually work on solving it. This involves not only brainstorming, but also asking people what they want to see in a product that solves this problem. For example, if you’re trying to design a new shopping cart, it’s important to ask people about how they’d like their shopping experience to be improved. Without empathizing and understanding your potential user base, your product’s purpose and function will be in misalignment. If no one buys it, then it doesn’t matter if it’s a mastery of engineering. Empathize with your user base, then brainstorm on top of those realizations to come up with dozens or even hundreds of ideas.

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A design team reviews preliminary prototype sketches (source)

Prototyping

Once there are a few ideas, it’s time to cull them down and develop a prototype of the best ones. A prototype is a mockup of a design idea. It can range from low-fidelity, like paper cutouts and foam core, to high-fidelity, involving 3D modeling and printing. Learn about the importance of low-fidelity prototyping here and how to make one here. By starting with inexpensive low-fidelity mockups, you can test and refine ideas without wasting time and money by adding details too soon. Testing the product will show you the ways your prototype shines and what needs to be changed. Every prototype gets a bit closer to the real product, until you have a high-fidelity prototype or the product itself.

Testing

Even if you’re the best empathizer in the world, it’s impossible to tell how your users will see your product without testing it. Have users try out the prototype and comment on what they like and dislike. Most importantly, avoid telling them what it is or how to use it. For example, if you’re developing a shopping website, prompt them with “How would you go about purchasing a product?” instead of “Try clicking on the shopping cart and going through the checkout process.” If they figure it out on their own, then it’s a good product. If not, then maybe you should choose a different idea to prototype, or the idea needs some serious tweaking.

Iteration

Chances are, you’ll need to refine your prototype, so keep iterating between prototyping and testing until you have a high-fidelity prototype that truly solves the specified problem. Sometimes, even the best high-fidelity prototype turns out to be a flop. Don’t be afraid to throw out the idea and go back to the drawing board. You can also choose another one of your concepts from brainstorming to run through the design process, or to pick a few ideas in the first place and take them through a basic prototyping and testing cycle to see which one is worth pursuing.

A designer develops a 3D model of the product (source)

A designer develops a 3D model of the product (source)

Adding Details and Functionality

When the high-fidelity prototype is complete and a hit with user testing, it’s time to turn that prototype into a real product. This is the time when you make a detailed 3D model or code the software. You may already have basic code, wireframes, or a 3D model that you used for 3D printing some prototypes, but now is the time to really refine your product’s functionality and aesthetics. Write the backend functionality, choose materials, polish it up, make sure the parts fit together, and find a manufacturer or distributor. And don’t forget to keep testing!

The Never-Ending Cycle

At this point, your product may seem complete, but it really never is. In order to keep up with society and to keep selling products, you will need to constantly iterate on your idea. Ever wonder why Apple comes out with a new iPhone every year? Your product is never done. It’s only just beginning. And that’s the most exciting thing in the world.

Companies like Creative Edge Products are designed to help you through this entire process. If you are daunted by following these steps on your own, just know that we are pros in the field and are ready to tackle your problem with you.

Featured image courtesy of Stanford d.school (source).