What does product design mean?
The design of products should not be left to chance; rather, products should reflect and meet today’s and tomorrow’s customer needs and the needs of one’s own company. To do this, the market must be observed; customers and their customers should be involved in the analysis of needs. This needs analysis falls within the remit of market research, a sub-discipline of marketing.
The results of the needs analysis are followed up by the work of product management. Product management specifies the functional requirements for the products to be developed and works them out – ideally in coordination with other operational functions, especially with marketing and sales, but also with operations (purchasing, work preparation, production, logistics, quality management, service, etc.) – into specifications and requirements. In this phase, decisions are made about basic properties, special properties and “enthusiasm properties” that the product to be developed should trigger in customers. These properties can be from the areas of functionality, handling, design, reliability, longevity, sustainability, price, availability, service, etc.
A formal approval process is needed in the company for the release of the specifications and requirements, in which the management is usually also involved. The approved specifications then serve as a guideline for product development.
Elements and criteria for successful product design
Product design is successful when criteria from all essential operational functions are taken into account. A product must be attractive to customers, but it must also be economically profitable for the supplier, not only at the moment of sale, but over the entire product life cycle. It must be economically maintainable and recyclable to the highest possible degree at the end of the product’s use. For this, the choice of materials, the way different materials are joined and the future availability and easy replacement of wear parts are essential. Manufacturing methods and processes usually affect the production costs and thus the yield that can be generated from the product. they also affect the possibility and cost of material separation at the end of the use phase. A product that can be economically separated into its materials, which can be recycled, is worth more at the end of the product’s life than a product where this is not the case. Therefore, the way the product is manufactured must be considered as an important part of the product design.
A product can even be designed to adapt to changing customer needs through upgrades. Such a requirement usually implies a modular product design.
Individual products do not stand alone. In many markets, a product portfolio and an assortment of matching additional items are expected. The conception of product portfolios inevitably leads to diversity, and diversity means increased effort. In order to limit this effort for a desired variety, a modular product conception is also advisable. The splitting of a standard into variants should be done as late as possible in the manufacturing process. This must be taken into account and planned during product development.
Examples of consistent product design
This section illustrates possibilities of consistent product design and gives impulses for possibilities and characteristics of product design. A review of these examples can help to find creative approaches to product design.
“Digitalisation, e-commerce”: Consider which products you can digitalise to make access easier, faster and cheaper without reducing the benefits perceived by customers.
Examples include the music trade and continuing education providers.
“Aikido”: According to the Japanese martial art “aikido”, forces from competitors and customers can be used to strengthen the “add-on”: own position. Offer something completely different from what your customers and competitors expect from you.
Examples are Nintendo and Cirque du Soleil.
“Integrator, Orchestrator”: Consider organising and coordinating resources and capabilities in a value creation process to increase process efficiency and process stability.
Examples of this are Zara and BYD Auto.
“Layer Player”: You could focus on a specific service that is needed in different industries. This allows your customers to obtain high professionalism and you can benefit from a broad customer base.
Examples are PayPal and app providers.
“Solution Provider”: Check whether a path to becoming an integral solution provider for your business is possible. This will give you insight into your customers’ essential processes and can create high barriers to switching.
Examples include Tetrapak, Elopak and Microsoft.
“Crowd Sourcing”: get small contributions to your product development from your customers free of charge. This makes your products more likely to meet your customers’ expectations and makes your customers feel involved.
Examples of this are software providers.
“Open Source”: Imagine your product being created entirely by your customers. What is common in software engineering can be transferred to other products. You can then contribute your expertise in consulting, implementation and service.
Examples are Mozilla, Wikipedia and Linux.
“Reverse Engineering, Target the Poor”: You do not have to develop your products completely yourself. Dismantle successful competitor products and replicate their performance (me-too).
An example of this is Brilliance China Auto.
“Trash-to-Cash”: You could collect, process and sell waste. This also applies to obsolete materials, industrial waste, used equipment and leftover stock.
Examples include Duales System Deutschland, used machinery dealers, second-hand shops and TK-Maxx.
“Reverse Innovation”: Pick up simple, robust and low-cost products from emerging countries and adapt them to the needs in your markets.dürfnisse in Ihren Märkten an.
Examples are Renault and Logitech.
“Franchising”: Your product is not the product that customers receive, but the licence to use your brand, business concept and know-how. Your revenues are payments from the franchisees for these services.
Examples of this are McDonald´s and McFit.
“Peer-to-Peer”: You create a marketplace for the exchange of services between peers for payment.
Examples of this are Ebay, Napster and Airbnb.
“Licensing”: If you have special know-how or strong brands, have these qualities protected and offer licences to use this know-how. In this way, you tap into revenues from values that would otherwise remain unused.
Examples of this are the Ostendorf brothers (with KG 2000) and inventors.
“Mass Customization”: Through modular products, the involvement of customers in product specification and flexible production processes and procedures, you can respond to individual needs despite mass production.
Examples include computer manufacturers such as Dell, and the automotive industry.
“No Frills”: You can slim down your offering to the core benefits for your customers. You can share the savings with your customers.
Examples include Aldi, Lidl, McFit and Dacia.
“Open Business Model”: You could open your business model to service partners to jointly create a market service.
An example of this is Apple with the Apple Store.
Conclusion on the right product design
Product design is much more than pure product development. It starts with careful market observation and identification of current and future customer needs. In addition, the company’s interests must be incorporated into the product design so that the new product has a profitable impact on the company’s earnings. The product needs to be thought through its entire life cycle when it is being designed. For product design to succeed, all operational functions should be involved. Product design should follow the strategic direction of the company. Looking at archetypal examples can help to design products in such a way that they consistently correspond to this strategic orientation.