10 common product design mistakes

10 Product Design common mistakes

The new-product development process is complex and multi-dimensional. It requires considerable professional expertise and the ability to make decisions in uncertain situations. Though trial and error is an integral part of the process, it is both possible and advisable to avoid common mistakes that might cause significant loss of time and money. The following is a list of 10 common mistakes and misconceptions often made during the product development and design process. The first step to avoiding them is being aware of them.

1. A good idea equals a good product
While an idea for a product is always the basis and point of departure of every development project, a good idea is not a guarantee of a good product. A common mistake is to attach too much importance to a product idea. Many people have good ideas, but only a few are able to turn them into products. Generally, a product based on a mediocre idea that has gone through a professional design and development process has a better chance of success than one based on a good idea that has undergone a mediocre design and development process.

2. Design without research and characterization
The development process includes three main phases – the information phase, the generation phase, and the testing and evaluation phase. When scheduling or budgetary pressures are in play, there is a natural temptation to assume that we have enough experience and information to be able to skip the information phase and begin with the generation phase. This is of course a mistake. The information phase includes carrying out research (which may be very focused) that always turns up new and important information about the market, the competition, user experience, technologies, etc. It also creates the potential for innovation. Since development costs become much more expensive as a project progresses, the later mistakes are discovered, the more painful they are.

3. Confusing product features and user advantages
A common mistake made when characterizing a product is characterizing its features first rather than the advantages it provides to users. Though defining the features of a product is more natural and easier, by doing so you may miss the exact need and the precise advantage, therefore limiting the variety of possible solutions. For example, “folding bicycle” characterizes a product feature, while “city bikes that can fit in an elevator” or “mountain bikes that can fit into the trunk of a passenger car” characterize the exact need and the advantages for the user. “Folding” is one possible solution, but is probably not the only one, and may not even be the best one. A definition based first and foremost on user advantages helps us not only accurately pinpoint and understand user needs, but also search for solutions that are beyond the commonplace.

4. Focus groups for non-existent products
Focus groups are a useful tool to learn about products which consumers are familiar and have experience with. They are not appropriate and do not provide valid information about new products that are unfamiliar to focus group participants. Using this tool for a new product will result in information and conclusions about the product and user experience that are imprecise and can even be misleading. In order to receive valid feedback from a new product’s potential consumers, User-Experience Research – a tool that combines consumer wisdom with the creativity and experience of designers and engineers – must be carried out.

5. Falling in love with a solution
It happens to all of us; we fall in love with a certain solution (especially if it is our own), making it extremely hard for us to judge its quality and suitability in a rational and objective manner. Those who develop products must be able to let go… to test alternatives in a professional manner without letting ego or sentiment get in the way.

6. Performance without user experience
In the not so distant past, products were largely judged on the basis of their capabilities and performance. The situation today is completely different – a product that only functions well will have a hard time on the market. End users (including non-consumers) expect total user experience from a product; fulfilling its function is a given. Many people dealing with product development do not pay enough attention to defining and characterizing the product’s ‘soft-qualities’ and the user experience it provides, which today are almost a necessary condition for commercial success. 

7. Speed, speed, and more speed
There is yet to be born a development project that has been allocated sufficient time. It is only natural that the development process be under constant time pressure, but a common mistake is to apply too much pressure on the wrong places for the wrong reasons. On the average, 70% of development time is spent on reaching decisions (this is true mostly of large corporations) and production implementation. The remaining 30% are devoted to design. It is clearly a mistake to apply pressure during the design phase where only a relatively small amount of time can be saved, while putting quality at risk. Another common mistake is to artificially, rather than rationally, set milestones, which not only apply unnecessary pressure on the work, but do not advance the overall time schedule.

8. Industrial design equals beautiful products
A successful design process does indeed produce better-looking products, but esthetics is only one aspect of the potential contribution of industrial designers. If in the past a design provided a solution mostly to esthetic facets of a product, the situation has completely changed. Leading companies have come to understand that industrial designers can contribute much more than their traditional roles within the R&D department. Today they contribute to strategy, market and user experience analysis, innovation, marketing, ergonomics, and more. Using designers’ capabilities only for the esthetic facets of a product is a waste of their knowledge and potential.

9. A new product only requires development
Developing a new product requires significant investment in time, money, and professional expertise. A good product is a necessary condition for commercial success, but not a sufficient one. Many entrepreneurs and product developers concentrate on the product to the neglect of other aspects, such as market conditions; competition; business plans; sales; and branding, which will all have far-reaching influence on the commercial success of the product. All of these aspects must be taken into consideration during (and not only after) the development process.

10. Product design without product-design management
Product design management deals with product development policies and creating innovation as part of the business strategy of a company. High-quality and exceptional products are not produced by chance and are also not completely the result of a focused effort on the part of the R&D department. Quality products that are innovative and exceptional are the consequence of strategy that was carefully shaped during a structured process. Much like graphic design implements branding, so product design should implement product strategy. Designing a product in a policy vacuum may produce an excellent product, but one that is at risk of being irrelevant to the market, the target users, or the marketing strategy of the company.

  • Tiago

    Nice one