3 Critical Steps to a Successful Product Design Strategy

Creating a hardware device comes with a unique set of design constraints. Knowing what to consider from the beginning of your project will help you navigate the challenges ahead. In this video, Cameron Smith, Founder and CEO of Product Creation Studio, will cover what some of those unique challenges entail and how to overcome them.

There a lot of influences and factors behind producing a successful product, it requires more than just looking good or working well. At Product Creation Studio, we take a holistic approach to this process. 

So the question is, why do you need a design strategy? Because it will ultimately help you determine what product to create. 

A design strategy defined, determines what product to make and why and how to innovate contextually in both the short term and the long term. A design strategy is the interplay between design, business and technology. 

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A good product design strategy will: 

  • Define the product before it's created
  • Give insight into what will make the product successful
  • Help you understand what you should design
  • Guide the development path
  • Help with design decisions
  • Incorporate other disciplines into the design process

Who uses a design strategy? Some of the most well-known and popular brands use a design strategy - Apple and Tesla.  

It was no coincidence that Apple has people lined up in front of their stores three days in advance every time they have a new release.

The newest Tesla Model 3 had astronomical sales and had over 350k pre-orders from people who had never even seen the car. That equates to over $14 billion in sales! It was the largest product launch in U.S. history ... and it's plays in a very competitive market. 

These companies both have a strategic vision and a good design strategy for the products they create. 

So, how do you create a design strategy? There are three critical steps to a successful product design strategy. 

  1. Understand the problem and the opportunity.
  2. Define your product (and do it early!).
  3. Visualize your product.

1. Understand the problem and the opportunity.

You have a product idea, but you don't know where to start. First thing you have to do is understand why someone would want your product or idea. 

  • Do you offer a solution to a problem that is not currently being solved? 
  • Will your product perform better than the competition? 
  • Will your product have features not currently on the market? 
  • Does your product provide a lower cost solution? 

Knowing why someone would want your product has to be top of mind and you'd better have a solid answer and quick response when someone asks you why or you will not have a successful product launch. 

To really understand the problem or opportunity, you need to: 

  • Know the problem that your product solves intimately. Due your research diligently. 
  • Know the people that will purchase, use and experience your product. Example: If you have a medical device, the hospital may be the purchaser, the doctor may be the user and the patient may be the one who experiences your product. You have to know all three. For a consumer product, the purchaser/user/experience-r may be the same person. 
  • Understand the environment your product will be used in. Is it going in the hospital, the ER or the home? There are different standards for different environments. 

Once you fully understand the total use of your product, you can begin designing a compelling product. However, you must follow a design process to ensure you don't miss an important step along the way.

Below, is an image of the process we use at Product Creation Studio to ensure that we don't miss any important tasks, setting us up for a better chance at product success. 

In order to have a successful product design strategy, you need to fully complete each phase of the process before you go to the next. If you don't, you risk creating a product that doesn't work or misses the market it's intended for. 

To add to that, for each step of the process, you should be documenting everything you do and all the decisions you make so you can look back and verify. Are the changes you made still legitimate? Are they still appropriate for the product or market? Does my research still hold true? 

Now that you understand the opportunity or problem that your product is solving, you can begin to define it. 

2. Define your product. 

What is important to your product? There are three characteristics of a successful product that you have to consider when defining its features: 

  1. Functional. It has to work appropriately to solve a problem. 
  2. Usable. Ease of use and must be clear on how to use it. 
  3. Desirable. What draws the user to it? Consider cost, performance, aesthetics, interaction and benefits.  

As an example, the medical industry used to just need a product that was functional and if it worked well enough, it could easily penetrate the market. Then, in the early 2000s, the FDA started cracking down because a lot of the products on the market weren't being used as they were intended, resulting in numerous errors. As a result, the FDA instituted human factors regulations, requiring all medical devices to be not only functional, but usable as well. 

Since then, there is now a third component that has increasingly come into play in medical device success and that is desirability. Desirability's popularity and growth into the medical industry is a direct correlation to the popularity of design and aesthetics as a product distinguisher in the consumer industry. 

Why? 

Because the people that work in the medical industry - the hospitals that purchase the products, the doctors that use them and the patients that experience them are all consumers. They're the same people purchasing the consumer products. 

If you consider all three of these aspects when defining your product - functionality, usability and desirability - you have the opportunity to create a successful product.

When defining your product, there are three different product phases to think about. 

  1. Minimum Viable Product (MVP)
  2. Optimum Desirable Product (ODP)
  3. New Product Introduction (NPI)

You don't need every single feature included in the MVP or consider every business and brand objective in the ODP, etc. Each phase will have different (and added) considerations to think about when defining product features. 

Minimum Viable Product (MVP)

Think about the MVP as the core functionality of your product. It will: 

  • Be based on product features that have to be included in the product in order to function properly. 
  • An object that solely serves to solve a problem. 
  • Is not meant to have an emotional impact on the user (it just needs to do its job). 
  • Create initial product requirements, product specs that will be carried through the development process. 

In terms of design (and when defining your product), the MVP is simply a list of your core features that are elemental to the functionality and usability of the product. 

Next product phase, you need to think about how those features are perceived. This brings us to the ....

Optimal Desirable Product (ODP)

An ODP should: 

  • Be defined by user perception.
  • Be considered a 'Minimum Loveable Product'. It has to function, but there also has to be some sort of aspect that attracts the user and makes them want to use it. 
  • Aligns with the user's lifestyle and environment. 
  • Resonates with users. 

Example: Sonicare Toothbrush. In the MVP format, it was just a toothbrush with a vibratory head. That was the core functionality of the product. But in the ODP stage, they added induction charging - the 'gee whiz' factor of the piece because it was the first of it's kind to come out without any electrical connections. The mobility of the product was the desirable aspect and the feature that people remembered the most. 

So for this phase - defining the ODP - I would list things like the induction charging, the interface, buttons, backlighting, etc. in relation to being used in a clean environment and meant for safety.

New Product Introduction (NPI)

You should think about the NPI in terms of how it relates to the brand. The NPI should: 

  • Incorporate business success metrics 
  • Include marketing insight and brand identity
  • Incorporate Design for Manufacturing (DFM) considerations
  • Includes non-recurring engineering (NRE) and cost of goods (COG) analysis
  • Pay attention to logistics and distribution

Once you have an idea of how your product will be defined in each product stage, you can begin to ....

3. Visualize your product. 

How do you create a great design? Once you have a list of required features and have a good idea of what your product will need in each of the different phases, you need to start the actual design process. 

There are three continuous steps you must take when designing a product:  

  1. Ideate
  2. Prove
  3. Refine

Ideate

Things you can do in this phase include: 

  • Visualize ideas that solve problems through concept drawings, brainstorming and 3D proof-of-concept prototypes.
  • Criticize concept by reviewing it's strengths and weaknesses. 
  • Create design direction with style research and definition e.g., Are you designing a Mercedes or BMW? They are both luxury brands, but built for different customers. One is made for comfort, the other is made for the driving experience. This is where you need to think about the business, brand and marketing and how it comes into play when designing your product. 

Prove

When looking to prove your design concepts, you should: 

  • Test mechanical aspects, ergonomics, interactions and cosmetics. 
  • Fail early in order to gain needed feedback. 
  • Get user feedback (but always remember users are reactionary). 

Refine

When refining your products, you need to: 

  • Make adjustments to your learned failures in order to keep improving. 
  • Compare concepts to product definition of your MVP, ODP and NPI definitions. 
  • Use product requirements as a measuring stick. 

Ideate > Prove > Refine > Repeat

It's a circular and continuous path we use at Product Creation Studio to increase the chances of success. This path: 

  • Mitigates risk through building, testing and improving 
  • Uses visualization as a method of validating product requirements (created through the MVP exercise) and product definitions

How does the design strategy relate to the development process? 

Above is an image of our entire product development process. The design strategy comes in heavily at the beginning two stages - Survey and Envision. Survey stage is where we understand the problem and define the product. In the Envision stage, this is where we actually begin to visualize the product we're creating and starting testing and working with the engineering teams. 

Summary

To create a successful design strategy, you need to understand your problem or opportunity so that you can full define your product. At this point, you can then focus on visualizing and realizing your product.