Many people wonder if it’s possible to design their own products.
The truth is that product design used to be very expensive, time consuming, and fraught with many pitfalls. Even today, most entrepreneurs and small businesses face many challenges when trying to design their own products.
But product design doesn’t need to be very expensive or time consuming. In fact, there are many ways to get from idea to a prototype in a short amount of time, for a fraction of the price that people used to pay for traditional product design.
The crowdspring community (over 210,000 graphic and product designers) has helped many entrepreneurs, small businesses and even big Brands design products for many different industries. We’ve worked with the likes of LG, Barilla, Philips and some of the world’s best agencies to design innovative products and product packaging, for a fraction of the cost those companies and agencies would otherwise pay (not to mention a fraction of the time such design would normally take).
But what happens after you get your product designed (often through rapid prototyping), find a manufacturer to build your product, and get ready to sell your product?
How do you go from a well-designed prototype to a successful product launch?
That’s what we want to discuss in this post.
The answer is … great product design helps to create successful products.
It’s not a secret that successful products share a common trait – they’re well-designed products that solve specific, identifiable problems shared by many prospective customers.
Take a platform like Kickstarter. Kickstarter launched in 2009 with the goal to “help bring creative projects to life.”
Kickstarter brings product design and the creative process into the public eye in a way that has transformed how ideas turn into successful products.
Kickstarter is a valuable resource for entrepreneurs to get financial backing for their ideas. But it can also teach us much about product design and how successful product design turns into successful launches.
There are some widely acknowledged basic best practices that all of the most successful projects on Kickstarter follow. Successful products:
- Solve real world problems,
- Have only what’s necessary to solve that problem (minimal design),
- Are well-planned (don’t “move fast and break things”),
- Understand and take into account the manufacturing process,
- Promote high quality and consistency, and
- Wow customers with the full experience (product, packaging, marketing).
Let’s talk about each of these best practices to help you design and launch a successful product. Whether you launch your product on Kickstarter, Indiegogo, RocketHub, Fundable, another crowdfunding service, or directly, you’ll want to understand and follow these important product design best practices.
Successful products solve real world problems
It seems obvious, but whatever it is you’re designing should solve actual problems.
Importantly, these should be real problems that many people face. If you solve a problem only you have, you’re unlikely to find a market for your product. If you solve a problem that you think people have, that isn’t a real problem, you won’t find a receptive audience for your solution.
Kickstarter has many campaigns that failed to raise even a single dollar, often because the problem they tried to solve weren’t problems at all. As Basecamp founder Jason Fried said, “Nothing gets you more focused on solving a problem than actually having that problem.”
Figuring out problems can be challenging. Often people don’t know what they need; they just know they have a pain point. Automobile innovator Henry Ford is thought to have remarked “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”
Observation and research should be an integral part of your discovery process to determine where your customer’s challenges are.
Design firm Continuum used this principle to excellent effect when they designed the now ubiquitous Swiffer mop. The company was brought in by Proctor and Gamble to come up with a better way to clean floors.
Through painstaking observation of how people actually cleaned their floors, the company discovered a radically different and effective mopping solution which eventually became the wildly successful mop we know today.
We all have many jobs to be done in our lives. Some are little (pass the time while waiting in line); some are big (find a more fulfilling career). Some surface unpredictably (dress for an out-of-town business meeting after the airline lost my suitcase); some regularly (pack a healthful lunch for my daughter to take to school). When we buy a product, we essentially “hire” it to help us do a job. If it does the job well, the next time we’re confronted with the same job, we tend to hire that product again. And if it does a crummy job, we “fire” it and look for an alternative. (We’re using the word “product” here as shorthand for any solution that companies can sell; of course, the full set of “candidates” we consider hiring can often go well beyond just offerings from companies.)
The Glif is an example of a successful Kickstarter product that solved a genuine problem. It was one of the earliest Kickstarter campaigns and one of the first ones to become popular on the crowdfunding site.
It has one simple feature: it lets you mount your iPhone on a tripod. The problem it solves is straightforward, and its execution is simple and to the point. Backers agreed, pouring $137,000 into a campaign that started with a goal of just $10,000.
Create only what’s necessary to solve that problem (minimal design)
Focus and clarity of purpose are critical elements that can define the success (or failure) of a product.
We’ve all seen the “jack of all trades” products that seemingly do everything, and while they may seem like great ideas on paper, execution often proves more challenging.
An infamous example from Kickstarter is the Coolest Cooler.
This cooler was no ordinarily cooler: it also crushed ice, charged your devices, played music via an integrated Bluetooth speaker, and came with a built-in cutting board, utensil storage, and (of course) a bottle opener. It reminded us of the old Ginsu knife infomercials.
Backers poured in, enticed by the wides range of functionality and the incredibly low price (which started at $165), pushing the campaign to over $13 million, one of the highest in Kickstarter’s history.
Unfortunately, what could have been a crowing success quickly resulted in chilled investors.
Backers experienced delay after delay, broken promises, and poor communication. Building a new product crammed with features takes time and money, of which the creators of the Coolest Cooler eventually ran dry.
There’s nothing wrong with aiming for the stars, but make sure you have a solid plan for how you’re going to get there. If you have to, work towards that goal in stages. Start simple, and build from there.
Plan carefully (don’t “move fast and break things”)
One of Facebook’s best-known mottos for their developers used to be to “move fast and break things.”
This may be possible when you’re dealing with a digital product. It’s less appropriate if you’re dealing with a physical product that needs to go through a much longer gestation period before it can reach consumers.
Blanchet and Potash started by observing travelers undergoing a variety of standard travel difficulties. They then began to compile that data and created a list of annoyances they could solve with their product. Their team used this information to develop a number of prototypes that evolved from drawings all the way to actual luggage.
Trunkster took the time to research their market, gauge interest, test their design, and avoid a hasty launch with an ill prepared product. Because they pinpointed the challenges of real customers and took the time to thoughtfully respond to them, they surpassed their funding goal by 2,000% and brought in over $1 million in funding.
This also demonstrates one of the better-known processes for creating successful products known as “user-centered design.”
This process puts the needs of users and customers first by employing an effective product design cycle:
- test, and
It’s important to make sure that the solution being created matches the needs of end-users. With products that require manufacturing or other third-party involvement, building the right thing the first time is crucial.
Facebook has since also discovered this, and they updated their motto in 2014 to be “Move fast with stable infrastructure.” The ability to work with agility is essential, but it should be balanced with the ability to withstand setbacks or complications.
Understand the manufacturing process
A challenge that has plagued many new products (especially those on Kickstarter) is how to manage the manufacturing process. This is especially true when a campaign attracts far more backers than the founders initially expected.
It’s vital to integrate DFM, or “design for manufacturability,” as early in the process as possible. DFM is the process of creating designs that are easy to manufacture, with two goals: making things less expensive to build, and making it easier to build a lot, and quickly.
Many founders lack skills and experience in this area, so plan ahead and make sure you have the expertise in place. When your product moves from the prototype phase into manufacturing, integrating DFM means you can be more confident you can build inexpensively and quickly.
The founder of Spark Core talked about this challenge when dealing with projects that get way more funding than expected.
Most projects (particularly hardware) are delayed by weeks, months, or sometimes more than a year. Delays tend to correlate with the complexity of the product, the level of overfunding, and the constraints on the team (e.g. are they doing this full time, is it a team or an individual, do they have other sources of funding, etc.). Sometimes the project creators run out of money and disappear, running from an angry mob of backers who believed in them once, and now want a refund.
Having a great idea is just the beginning.
Getting the idea to market means a lot of planning, iterating, prototyping, and preparing for the long road a product must follow before it’s ready for purchase.
Quality and consistency counts
It’s one thing to have a great video demo and a prototype that wows people and brings in the backers. Be careful, though: promising the sun and moon when you haven’t left the ground can be a big mistake.
Many campaigns on Kickstarter and other crowdfunding sites have overpromised and underdelivered. Most crowdfunding sites remind users that what you see may very well not be what you eventually get.
Ouya was a gaming company with a huge amount of buzz on Kickstarter, blowing past its initial goal of $950,000 and raising over $8.5 million. It promised to be a hardcore gamer’s platform: an open and hackable system; easy to upgrade and filled with games people would want to play.
Critics panned the console when it was finally released. They noted that the interface was problematic and unfinished, with too few games and limited functionality. The company eventually sold itself to Razer, and there have been very few updates since.
Zano was another Kickstarter with a ton of hype that failed to deliver.
Its demo video was impressive, showing off a small, handheld drone with video capability that responded to voice commands.
They [pre-order customers] reported that drones would repeatedly “bunny hop”’ a few centimetres in the air before landing again, or veer off wildly to crash into walls. Video quality was dreadful, and there was no sign of even basic obstacle avoidance or gesture control, let alone fully autonomous flight.
Kickstarter campaigns are in a unique position of needing to show off enough to drive interest and bring in backers, but often at a stage where the product isn’t even fully specced yet.
Whether or not you use Kickstarter as a way to launch your idea, another crowdfunding site, or launch directly, do your due diligence to make sure that what you end up building is a high quality and consistent experience.
Design the full experience (product, packaging, marketing)
The best products are those that deliver a complete experience.
Apple has been at the forefront of this for decades. The company understands that the packaging and marketing of a product creates a sensory experience that reinforces the brand. They have arguably been one of the biggest drivers for better packaging design in many different industries.
Fortunately, you don’t have to be a multi-billion dollar company to have well-designed packaging.
SmartHalo is a Canadian bike accessory company who have found great success from its initial Kickstarter campaign. When they delivered their final product to backers, it came in an elegant box with many thoughtful additions, like cardboard guides for installing the device on your bike.
The companion app was also well-designed, with a straight-forward setup process that extended the company’s attention to detail.
Your product’s packaging is the first real experience new customers have with your brand. Make sure that experience is delightful and memorable.
Maybe you’ve hit upon the greatest innovation the world has ever seen. Hooray! But even the most dedicated team of employees and bountiful funding can’t guarantee your success if you can’t deliver a quality product to your customers. Make sure that you keep these product design best practices at the forefront of your strategy when you’re ready to begin launching your genius idea.
It’s also important to have a product designer who can help you create what you’re dreaming up! Carefully review these strategies, and make sure you have the right people to help you see your idea through to success.
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