Matt Nuccio. "Product Design."
Royaltie$, June 2008
I constantly ask myself how a well-designed product is defined. What makes a smart design? What makes it edgy? Is it something that just hits you right away? Is it something that is right in your face and assaulting you non-stop? My gut feeling is to say, "Yeah!" But then I draw a parallel to own my interests, such as music, and I notice that I couldn’t stand most of the artists I like now when I first heard them. Most of my favorite musicians have never had a top ten hit, nor have they ever won a Grammy. Yet they go on for years, selling millions of albums and selling out venues all over the world. When I think of the song that caught on right away and won a Grammy I recall a plethora of one hit wonders. "Ice Ice Baby," anyone? Product design is very much the same way. It can be a trend or a staple. When analyzing this I start to realize that I need to ask my clients right off the bat, "Is this bubble gum pop or classic rock?"
Hit products come and go, but strong, sensible design lingers for years. When approaching a new design I’m very conscious of adding value to a client's product. It’s one thing to have amazing function, but it’s double the punch to have it look great. An elegant or smart design can help raise the perceived value of your product, helping to give it that needed push against its competition. If the retail shelf is stacked with a hundred clone products, you may want to push the envelope a bit.
Don’t be afraid to look different — it may help you stand out. Like the garment business, designers have a strong influence on trends, and a well-designed product can dictate a sense of fashion. Remember the iMac? It seemed like the world was inundated with transparent colors for years after its introduction. A friend of mine even had an iMac orange toilet seat. It doesn’t get any more elegant than that.
Looks aren’t everything. Not only is that the story you’ve heard from your friends over many a blind date, it is also the truth behind product design. Eliminating manufacturing overhead is extremely important when designing or redesigning a product. If it looks great, but adds considerably to the cost, it may be over designed. A smart design should try and keep in mind the manner in which an item will be manufactured while maintaining integrity and safety. Even if it looks amazing you might want to reconsider rotocasting a slide-in tray when a vacuum form would do the same job for a fraction of the cost. If necessary, try working backwards. Start off with a price point and tweak the product until you hit it. If this is the case it may be wise to consider limiting the amount of molds, material and assemble actions required to produce. The old "less is more" theory holds especially true here. A difficult production process can cause delays and raise costs. If you create a design that requires a factory to outsource for labor and/or material, you need to anticipate headaches, considering that factory capabilities are a big must in product design. If you know you are going to be using a specific factory, you may want to inquire about its capabilities. What process does it use? What might it need to outsource? Whether your product is plastic or wood you should inquire about material availability. Some materials are commodities and are subject to market value. If necessary, be sure to indicate exactly what you have in mind, but be open to the factory's suggestions. Many times factories have simple solutions that you may have overlooked. Make sure to keep the communication open and always insist on seeing samples before production has begun. Many issues can be corrected simply by reviewing a sample beforehand.
Looks may not be everything, but they're very important to the consumer. A smart design can be very refreshing, but be careful not to reinvent the wheel. It is good marketing to leave some semblance to a product category. You may not want to blur the lines too much between markets. Buyers can get lost when this happens — they may love the concept, but they become unsure about which department the item belongs in, leaving your product in retail purgatory or even worse, the wrong retail aisle all together. Be sure to visually announce what your product does. Simple features are the easiest to convey in packaging or on the sample floor. You can’t always rely on TV or in-store demos, so make sure it speaks for itself.
Whether you like classic rock or bubble gum pop, you must make sure your design is sensible. Adding value to a client's product and eliminating unnecessary manufacturing overhead is important, as is product integrity and safety. Now let's get out there and help change the retail world one well thought out product design at a time.