By: Nitin Virkar
For any business, product development is one of the most critical aspects, especially in the initial phases. Yet, this is the stage where most startups and new-age businesses struggle with funds and the right allocation of resources.
Given these circumstances, at what stage does one involve designers and what does one expect from them? Involve them too early and their fees could seem unaffordable! Involve them too late and there would be a strong chance of duplication of efforts and rediscovery.
Undoubtedly, many of you would have faced this dilemma! Hence, this effort to disseminate, what a designer can deliver, through the process of a product’s development. My hope is that this article lends clarity and answers, to the aforementioned questions.
If you are an entrepreneur looking to develop a product that will go on to define your business, then hiring the services of a designer may be a great idea. But, then again, when is the right time to get one on board? What is it exactly that a product designer delivers, when and how? And, what are the questions one must answer, before engaging with a product designer?
There is a curve to the development of every product. The starting point of the curve can emerge from anywhere; through an existing passion, an identified need/opportunity, the availability of excess funds (wishful thinking), etc.
It is possible that some may stumble upon the idea and may not require one or more of these aspects to be actively researched or discovered. But for most, each part of the development curve needs to be figured out through research and logic. Every startup or business will eventually go through all the different stages of product development.
At every step, there is a definitive benefit that a product designer has to offer. In this article, I will touch upon some of these deliverables and iterate the benefit that is desired and is possible.
1. Help a business identify its core user and the right market
Often, it so happens that despite a relevant product being identified and its unquestionable utility established, it struggles to attain its full potential as a business. While there are many factors that determine the success of a business, one of the most important ones is that of establishing the product’s relevance to the right consumer and context. It helps businesses (especially in the early stages) to focus and establish their niche
The successes of Cavinkare’s Chik Shampoo sachets or Bajaj’s Pulsar bikes are attributed to understanding the aspirations and limitations of the target consumer well. Bajaj realised early on that the future belonged to young citizens who have an influence over their parents. They started designing motorbikes, the visual aesthetic and look and feel of which lend a perception of agility and speed. The styling was purposefully curated to match the aspirations of these young Indians.
On the other hand, identifying other users for the same product can open up an entirely new market too. Sometimes, a product that does what it was designed for, also ends up being successful for a function that it previously did not cater to. For example, the use of washing machines to make buttermilk or lassi, which opened up a whole new market for the product.
In this stage of the process, a designer will help define the users’ personalities, their context (life cycle of the product in their lives) and their aptitude and aspirations, with reference to the product. The design of the product and the marketing communication that follows depends on this information.
Designers are trained to look at multiple perspectives and identify the possibilities that the product promises. These insights coupled with understanding the needs of different user groups can provide newer business opportunities.
What can you expect at this stage: A crisp statement of whom to sell what to
2. Identify the desired product features and current pain points that are critical to be resolved, for sound usability (understanding users and their requirements with reference to the product)
Knowing the product and target consumer is a great beginning and once their relevance is established, a lot of questions are answered, regarding the desired cost of the product, the possible retail and distribution channels, etc.
However, all the above information still doesn’t provide a clear brief for design development. Creating a sound brief is half the job well done and a good brief should provide points for validation of relevance of any concept.
Careful observation and analysis of the user personas and the context of their interactions with the product will provide inputs for the product’s features. This is essential for the product to be desired by the consumer.
A specific cost bracket or a retail scenario can indicate the features that can and cannot be a part of the product. A study of the context of its use can give an indication of the required ergonomic considerations, such as the product’s ideal size and weight, whether it comes directly in contact with the user, what part of the human body does it interact with, what is the space available for the product to operate or what should be the ideal space available for the product to function efficiently, ideal material properties, among many others.
The key is to illustrate the possibilities of an ideal product! A designer can help create this list, which will facilitate a discussion with the business stakeholders, to differentiate the must-have features from the good-to-have features. These decisions could be made based on budgets, product cost, available manufacturing processes, etc.
A final list of the features and the various functionalities that the product should satisfy, in addition to specifying what the product should not do, will form the brief for the product design.
What can you expect at this stage: A clear list of features, the product must have
3. Reduce cost price of the product / Increase value perception
Once a product brief has been identified, the designer will persevere to incorporate the desirable features in the most efficient manner, while considering the components and resources available.
An understanding of the manufacturing processes or the sequence of events in the course of assembly is required before developing the concept. This know-how helps validate the feasibility of ideas during the conceptualisation stage.
In design, most often there is no “one” right answer. Hence, exploring multiple possibilities is essential! When alternative directions for solutions (concepts) are visualised, they provide us with an approximation of the cost of the product. This constant to-and-fro and the debate of ideas vs feasibility is what eventually leads us to a cost-effective solution.
This can be achieved by optimising arrangement or composition of components, through better management of materials and manufacturing processes or even taking a re-look at the size or context; a calculated compromise on certain aspects of the defined brief.
What can you expect at this stage: Optimised materials, processes and compositions
4. Visualisation and Aesthetics
A picture is worth a thousand words! A designer can help create a visual, which can be used by clients to showcase ideas, even before the product has been created. Defining the concept or creating a physical expression of the concept in a way that it is perceived by many in the same manner as the business stakeholder.
Of course, the visual created at this stage would not remain exactly the same after the complete product development cycle, but this illustration or render would be akin to a dream scenario about the product and can help to onboard investors, find business partners, vendors, distributors and even get feedback from intended consumers.
Another aspect a designer will be able to help identify are the trends for styles and material, with respect to the identified consumer profile. This will help create the style board or a mood board that will suggest the eventual look and feel of the product.
A specific visual output is never the only right answer. Aesthetic affinity is very subjective and it’s important to keep an open mind and listen to what the consumer or user dreams of.
What can you expect at this stage: An exact prototype of Stage I of the product, through 360-degree 3D renders/ visuals
While being the most obvious of the inputs expected from a designer, the process to arrive at the common ground is rarely obvious and always needs a conscious effort from both, the designer and the business stakeholders. It is important to have extended conversations and debates that lead to a deeper understanding of not just the product, but also the business. A designer understands that the business owner has superior knowledge of his/ her business and operations, and only in-depth discussions can lead to a better comprehension of the challenges at hand.
While a designer’s scope of work and contribution can extend far beyond the above stated, I hope these points help answer some questions.
Design essentially helps build a three-way bridge — between industry, the consumer and the product. It facilitates building a connection between function and emotion, “a medium to bring reality to thought”. And, this happens through a process that is practised and internalised by many a successful organisation.