Over years in the industry, I have been lucky enough to design a variety of products. Some of these successful, while others not so much.

As a designer, there is nothing more motivating than working on a product you truly believe in. These are the products that you just know are going to be a success. Conversely, nothing is more deflating than working on a product you feel just isn’t going to make it. Recently I have been reflecting on what makes a product successful and more importantly what factors can limit the success of your product.

So here it is, 10 things to avoid when creating a new product..… a designers perspective.

Disclaimer: All views expressed in this article are of the author and intended to be helpful, delivered in a light-hearted way. No offence is intended.

1. Seeking help too late in the product creation process.  

If key decisions have been made prior to contacting a design firm, your product is probably missing extremely important factors that could make it a success. It’s hard seeing products that had potential miss the mark because prior decisions have been made that sometimes cannot be changed. Contact a product designer and get them involved early in the process. Participate in a discovery phase with the key members of your team to identify the key opportunities for the new product and assist you with making key design decisions on specs, components and so on.

2. Being married to an idea and not taking any suggestions onboard.

It is easy to believe you have come up with the next big thing and all you need is someone to ‘make it real’. Ideas need proper scrutiny and validation early on in the process. Failure to do this could mean you get too deep into the design process, create prototypes or even create a product that doesn’t even have a market. A designers job is also to offer an outsiders’/third-party point of view. Let us ask you the hard questions, offer fresh ideas, knowledge of materials and processes that you or your company may not have even thought of. This knowledge transfer can be the missing link between product success and failure.

3. Creating a ‘thing’ rather than solving a genuine problem.

A sure fire way to make a successful product is to focus on solving a problem. Without a problem, opportunities to differentiate from the other similar products in the market are limited to things such as performance and price. Instead of creating a product for the sake of it, aim to identify a legitimate problem that affects a large number of people and create a product that solves it. This is a simple yet effective recipe for a successful product.

4. Constantly changing the fundamental specification of the product.

It’s extremely hard to design a successful product when stakeholders have variable ideas about what they want. A product specification is something that is critical to have refined very early on in the process. This product specification should be created with the designer and all key stakeholders first. It should represent something that all parties agree on and become a complete guideline to the product design process.

5. A disconnection between designer and other key members of the team.

Creating a successful product is not as simple as giving a brief, paying some money and waiting for the result. It needs to be a collaboration between the designer, company and any other key stakeholders. The lines of communication between all parties work best when they are open. During the product design process, it’s vital that there’s an open line of communication between all key stakeholders. This speeds up the process to allow for decisions to be made efficiently and correctly. Communication tools such as Google chat, Slack and Wechat can be extremely helpful with this, they provide an open message board where all members can view, answer questions and give feedback.

6. Unrealistic expectations on timeframes.

Creating a successful product is a process that takes time. Trying to speed this process can force critical mistakes to be made and often leaves little time to gain market feedback and perform crucial validation testing.

You’ll get more bang for your buck by seeking input from a design consultancy with a realistic time frame. A good product design consultancy will have a wealth of knowledge and experience dealing with similar projects and in most cases will have a better idea of expected time frames.

7. No business model and path to market established.

It seems so simple and obvious but it’s so often overlooked. It’s very easy to get excited about an idea and get caught up designing a product but with no real way to sell it. This can be a very expensive and painful reality after investing a large sum of money on design or even worse after paying for tooling. To avoid this from happening, put in the groundwork early to validate an idea, create a business plan and work out how you are going to sell the product before even thinking about designing and producing.

8. Waiting until the last moment to give feedback and not adjusting timeline expectations.

When trying to design a product to a strict deadline it requires all the moving parts and members of the team to run smoothly and efficiently. A common place where this falls over is when the designs go to clients for feedback.  If this feedback is delayed it can mean a big delay on the project and timelines get pushed out. Designers are often working on multiple projects and when one project is delayed they have no choice but to work on another job. This can mean your project gets pushed further down the list.  Of course, delays happen and sometimes more time is needed to fully consider designs before giving feedback. However, be aware that timelines will need to be adjusted accordingly. When starting a project keep in mind that if you want to be involved in the process you will be required to give timely feedback and sign off on things for the design to progress and stay on track.

9. Trying to please everyone.

It’s tempting to try gain feedback from a diverse range of people, however, if every piece of feedback is to be followed it’ll send the designer down rabbit holes that ultimately add cost and delay the development.  Of course, it’s very important to seek feedback on designs during the process but the type of people you seek this feedback from should be very specific to the project. For example, when designing a rugged outdoor hunting torch it is not so important what your 65-year-old mother in law who will never go hunting thinks of the concepts.

10. Copying something.

It can be tempting to see a successful product and want to create a ‘me too’ product with some aesthetic changes made to it. This ties back to number 3, try to establish problems within a product that you can solve. This creates a point of difference between you and the competition and goes a long way to avoid infringing someone else’s intellectual property!

Unfortunately, we don’t live in a perfect world and every project and design process is different and comes with its own set of problems. Some of the above points can’t always be avoided, however, trying to steer clear of these points can help to ensure a smooth efficient design process and ultimately a successful product.

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Alistair Patterson

About Alistair Patterson

Senior Industrial Designer at Blender Design. A creative problem solver, Driven by creating amazing ideas and products given the most difficult problems.

One Comment

  • Stephen Geach says:

    Wonderful points Alistair and I couldn’t agree more with your thoughts and comments. So important for designers to learn from their mistakes and experience. Keep up the good work.

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