Improving Product Design One Step at a Time

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In any business where you provide a product to people whether it’s a physical product or an intangible like software, you must ensure you designed that product as close to perfect as possible. And, the definition of a well-designed product comes from meeting or exceeding customer needs with the finished product, not simply meeting the engineering requirements set form by your internal staff. Improving product design so it performs the way customers expect, looks great, is easy to maintain, last a long time, and delivers at the price point expected for similar quality is the only way forward to building a successful company or growing your existing company.

improving product design

Improving product design

Designing a new product is always a crap shoot — an incredibly expensive crap shoot. And, finding a mistake in designing your product or upgrading an existing product after you launch can damage your reputation and waste millions or even billions of dollars when the market rejects your product. A brand might find it impossible to recover from such a mistake or may find every action moving forward must adjust to aid in the recovery.

When Microsoft introduced the Windows 8 upgrade, for instance, they had indications the product wasn’t ready. They made the disastrous decision to launch anyway rather than incur the bad publicity that results when a brand delays its launch. Unfortunately, the problems they uncovered in their internal testing showed up among buyers when they tried to use Windows 8, despite the company’s hope that it could send out a patch before troubles showed up for customers.

The mistake was so devastating for the company (and costly to fix the problem among customers who’d already upgraded) that the company skipped Windows 9 and went straight to Windows 10 a few years later. When launched, Windows 10 had an entirely new user interface that, while likely planned, helped the company banish poor customer opinions after the Windows 8 debacle.

Here are some tactics for improving product design before you face a similar problem.

Get feedback from customers

Ultimately, the customers are the people with opinions that matter, and you need to make sure that you know what problem they’re trying to solve when they buy products such as yours. So aim to get as much feedback as you can from them, and quickly. When working as CMO for a tech startup, they brought me in with a UX (user experience) already mapped out. The first thing I did was take the paper prototype to potential buyers of our SAAS (software as a service) product. It didn’t work for them. We ended up redesigning the UX completely between that early design and the one sent to the development team. It’s much faster and cheaper to change these prototypes than recode the product. Software tools can help build a software prototype that works much like the real thing. I have students use something as low-tech as Powerpoint to build a “working” model of their product or website. All you have to do is create hyperlinks between elements to simulate the experience users have when they explore the product.

Despite multiple rounds prior to coding, once the product was finished, I spent hours with prospective customers while they explored our product. Even though the team spent hours testing the software, when customers get their hands on things, they find ways to break it you never imagined. More likely, they run into actions they want to take but it isn’t clear how to accomplish that action or a click takes them someplace other than where they thought it should. I took careful notes of everything and, for any question they asked; I tried to build a solution to improve product design prior to launch. Once we had a stable product with an intuitive user interface, we went for a public launch, and, because we’d spent so much effort in improving product design prior to launch, the product worked flawlessly.

UX design tips

The same goes when improving product design prior to launch or a post-launch enhancement for a physical product. In fact, that’s where the concept of rapid prototyping comes from. In the old days, a company might build a prototype out of balsa wood or some other cheap, pliable material to develop something prospective buyers could see in action. In large-scale projects, designers might work toward improving product design by testing parts of the design to ensure they meet customer demands. For instance, a company might put the wing of an aircraft into a wind tunnel to ensure it can produce the desired lift to keep the plane airborne.

Today, a variety of software tools exist to help you build prototypes for testing prior to the expense of even creating a prototype.

Make it more durable

Producing a product that’s sturdy and generally lasts well in people’s hands is a really vital and important thing for any product you produce. To ensure the product you built or planned is sturdy enough to put up with the type of punishment your customers can dish out, there are various steps that you can follow, including going to the best hot melt adhesive manufacturers to ensure you have a good means of holding the product together when your design calls for this product in the assembly. Many companies run rigorous tests that put the products they produce through rigorous testing to simulate years of average usage to ensure the durability of their products.

But, durability isn’t the only criterion used by consumers to judge quality.

  • How does your finished product look and how well does it keep that look under normal usage conditions?
  • How easily can the consumer clean and maintain the product after purchase?
  • Does the product require special conditions, such as temperature control?

Work with new developers

Transforming your idea into a finished product is expensive but it’s not something where pinching pennies makes a lot of sense. Think of improving product design and the processes used as an investment in your company’s future, because that’s what it is. Saving money on cheaper developers or cutting corners by eliminating consumer testing means spending more money to fix the problem, missing launch dates, and, potentially ending up with a crappy product.

You may find yourself in the position of handing off a product design process to a new developer. Maybe you don’t have the right skills in-house or you don’t have the bandwidth to move the project forward as you’d like. Maybe you want to outsource your design and development to another firm outside the US that offers more competitive pricing. Just use caution in making these decisions as they greatly impact your end product. Consider more than simply the cost when choosing a developer or designer. When a company charges by the hour, you may find the amount of time it takes to accomplish the job by a cheaper developer matches the cost of using a higher-priced developer who works faster. Fixing the mistakes of your cheap developer might outpace the cost of using a more expensive developer.

Another thing to consider is culture. We found that outsourcing our development to Vietnam, where the team spoke good English, resulted in communication problems that transcended language due to cultural differences.

great ux design tools

Develop a clear vision

All in all, if you can do all that with a specific vision in mind, you’ll find this leads to a much better product design on the whole, and one that likely translates into success with your target market. Your vision can be anything at all, from wanting to give people something useful that they can make use of to simply wanting to make the world better. It’s all about what drives you, and that in turn can affect the products that you create.

Conclusion

I hope you found these tips for improving product design helpful. I’d love to hear your ideas and how you approach the process of designing new or improved products. Please share your experience in the comments below.

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