What is Product Design?
Before we begin to discuss the definition of product design and answering the question “what is product design?”, it is important to reevaluate the definition of a ‘product’. Up until recently, the term was used only in relation to something material and often found in a brick-and-mortar store. However, ‘product’ and the product design process now also applies to digital products; modern product examples include websites and phone apps. There are even product designers called UX designers that specifically focus on usability of the digital product. Keeping this information in mind, building great products consists of many elements, with the design features being one of the most important qualities – from seamless digital applications to the functionality of an executive office chair, every successful product starts with a great design.
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Whether it is designing state-of-the-art audio equipment or developing complex medical diagnostic systems, the field of product design spans over numerous industries, including healthcare, lifestyle, interior design, automotive, and many more. In this article, we’ll explore the definition of product design, as well as the role of a Product Designer, including job outlook, skills needed and industry statistics.
In a successful product design timeline, the finished product will meet the specifications of the business, help build the brand and bring in a profit, solve the users’ problem, and provide aesthetic value wherever possible, too.
Of course, great product design requires a deep understanding of the user. The better the designers understand their audience, the more effective and relevant the product design outcome will be.
- Poor product design, on the other hand, generally falls into one of three categories:
- The product does not solve the problem efficiently
- The product causes additional problems instead
- The product is too expensive or inaccessible
To avoid these pitfalls, those working in product design will need to study the habits, preferences, frustrations, and limitations of the end-user. While aesthetics do play a role in product design, they are not as important as the above considerations.
History of product design
Every product we ever interact with has been designed by someone; the phone in your pocket, the clothes on your back, the car in your driveway.
And while product design is often viewed as a fairly recent industrial development, its history can be traced back to four key historical periods:
The Industrial Revolution
Beginning in 1750 and ending in 1850, the Industrial Revolution is when the first mass-produced and automated products started to hit the market. These products (such as tools for weaving and pottery) marked a move away from hand-crafted and individually-produced goods.
The Great Reform
Starting in 1850 and finishing in the early 1900s, the Great Reform was a period of artistic revival within the industrial sphere. During this time, the first modern product design (such as furniture) met the first pieces of modern technology (the lightbulb and the microphone).
Starting in the 1940s and continuing through to the 1980s, this is the period when designs from the 1800s began to look more like their contemporary counterparts. Automobiles moved away from carriage designs, and miniaturization led to products like the Sony Walkman.
The 1990s to today
Over the last thirty years, products have become less constrained due to miniaturization and digitization, which allow products to take on nearly any form imaginable. The result is experimental and iterative designs, a shift to digital products, and an overabundance of choice in many sectors!
What does a typical product design process look like?
Product design begins with Problem Definition and Idea Creation. During these early phases, a team of designers will seek to better understand the issues facing users, then come up with solutions (some feasible and some not) that will solve the customers’ needs within the constraints laid out by the company.
Next, the designers focus on Feasibility. This includes determining the cost of the product, the potential problems it might face, and how difficult it is to manufacture. A prototype is developed before the end of this stage.
Lastly, the prototype enters Testing. During this phase, the designers finalize the product through continuous improvements. Customers are brought in to test the product, more changes are made, and eventually, the product is ready for the market.
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