Why is product design strategically important?

Marketing is about values. It’s a complicated and noisy world, and we’re not going to get a chance to get people to remember much about us. No company is. So we have to be really clear about what we want them to know about us.
- Steve Jobs

Like any game, the objective of most business operations is to win. Whether your goals are related to problem solving, cultural contributions, or large-scale change, everyone has their own finish line, even here at Sightbox Product Design Studio in Los Angeles.

In a race with a great number of runners, maximizing your own performance increases your odds of standing out, making an impact, and being the first to step into the winner’s circle. To do that, you need a plan.

The Big Picture Stuff

There’s a temptation to look at advertising as an additional expense rather than a necessary investment. Marketing is as much a key part of the design development process as the technology that supports your product or your first prototype.

The same way money is poured into research and development,  product design is a key investment. The initial cost  for innovative, market-minded product development has its value multiplied in the success of a new product.

To put it simply, a better understanding of the customer will inform the ideal characteristics of a given product. The hallmark of a good product designer is enthusiasm to solve challenges and chase after opportunities. These philosophies drive Sightbox’s approach to product design strategy.

The Shifting Sands of Time

A rock-solid business strategy can anchor a project as it is tossed about in a sea of ever-shifting weather conditions.  The details of market progression, customer needs, and industry standards can change quickly.  Take for example the impact of evolving technology  on product design. In just one generation, nearly every aspect of production has changed drastically. Stormy as that may sound, jumping into the deep end at the right time can return amazing results.

The first person to plant their proverbial flag in the foundation of a new piece of tech is  likely to be successful, simply because they are the first. In this swiftly-changing environment, that new idea soon becomes commonplace.

To avoid the quicksand and stay alive, the one-time-innovators need to build a whole experience out of their original design. It’s not enough to be the first, you must also be the best. Competitive markets lead creativity in that way.

What does the timeline for the marketing strategy of product design look like? It begins with the product design process where product ideas are created with a specific design strategy in mind. Pulling from user research, design decisions are made to fit customer needs. The general concept can be boiled down as such: goods or services that find a solution to a relevant problem.

We have discussed the importance of incorporating product design from the very first steps of the design process in our blog post, What is Product Design? If you enjoy reading our delectably-witty and super-fun blog posts, head on over to sightbox.co/blog to get your fill. (Are we really promoting our blog in the middle of our blog…? Uh. Yeah!)

Written from a Strange Point in our History

Right now, life exists in the clear plastic bubble of the COVID-19 quarantine. The topic of the virus’ is unavoidable, for obvious reasons, as it has changed the shape of our landscape for everyone. Business needs have changed as a result, and honestly, it’s a huge problem for many industries.

In the face of all these changes, the upshot for creatives is that there are a lot of problems to solve! Let’s make some plans and solve them together. Yaaaay Teamwork! (In case you didn’t know, Sightbox is entirely staffed by cheerleaders.)

The biggest name in at-home video conferencing is Zoom. Their success can be entirely attributed to “these troubling times we find ourselves in.”  With the instantaneous demand for quality video-call tools,  larger, more established companies like Microsoft and Google rolled out their own versions of the same service.

It just goes to show that you have to invest in a product design strategy to pull ahead of the competitors.

🔴 Boxlunch 24: Why Is Product Design Strategically Important?

Personal Computer Domestication

In the beginning, the sunrise days of computer science, organizations like IBM and Hewitt-Packard were manufacturing massive computers exclusively for businesses. It was unheard of for a device like that to be marketed toward commercial audiences. Much like forklifts or industrial printers, the focus was on utility – the computer was a tool for businesses.

Steve Jobs is credited with bringing the personal computer into homes all over the world. Taking parts that were readily available, packaging them together, and making them more accessible allowed people to purchase a computer even if they didn’t have the skills to build one themselves.

Then innovation began. A graphic user interface replaced the clunky text-based one, providing greater ease of access. The consumer prospective of the computer had been changed. A brand new category of product had been created!

Who’s in Charge Here?

Product design of the past was largely created by engineering departments, not designers. Due to limited technological capabilities, there was often little room for art or design. Needless to say, that didn’t necessitate a dedicated design team.

The conversation was less, “How do we make this model valuable or desirable?” but more, “how do we make this digestible and less confusing”?

Apple made major improvements to many aspects of home computing. Steve Jobs took on a new role, not just repackaging PC components, but having a hand in designing new products. Jobs set a leadership example for collaboration between designers and engineers.

Bill Gates is an engineer, not a showman.  Naturally, Microsoft’s focus is on features and function rather than sleek and simplistic designs. There is no correct answer to the age old, “which is better” between the two companies, they simply have different objectives. Consumers are often very passionate about their “side” and see their interactions with these products as reflections of expression.

The strategy that can be implemented with good product design  can create an entirely new category of product from almost nothing. It doesn’t especially even matter if the project you’re developing is new, as long as it is new to users.

See Related: What Is Product Design?

Special Delivery

A List of Basic Product Design Questions: What is the product? How does it work? When is it used? What does the market look like? Is it in alignment with current trends?

Physical products as well as digital have to take costs, materials, and overall appearance into consideration when planning a product launch. All together, this idea of Product Marketing Fit comes into play.

How do we make a pre-existing idea desirable? You have to think of the complete package.

The goal is to convert the question, “Why would I want that?” – To –  “Now I HAVE to have that.”

Experiential Elements

The modern era of product design is the experience provided by the product. People don’t care about what happens behind the scenes, they are only concerned with what they see, feel, and experience. What is the lasting effect you want your product to have?

A focus on the UX (User eXperience) can mean a tidy UI, but in addition to a lovely aesthetic, it’s essential to consider the feeling that comes from interacting with the product. Whether you’re providing boundless knowledge at the tips of their fingers, or a guidebook that translates Japanese takeout menus, there is emotional responsibility in product design.

Romantic Resources

Speaking of emotions and social implications, let’s talk about Tinder for a second. The first to make using an online dating site “cool,” Tinder changed the definition of digital dating, erasing much of the associated stigmas.  The population of online dating didn’t really change, but they found a low-effort way to pull attention to their product.  They found a strategic way to bring people to their business.

Tinder is a prime example of how an experience defines the product. Smart product design acknowledges and supports the brand. The ability to integrate branding into all of your projects makes for an effective business strategy.

There are roughly 1500 new apps being launched on the app store every day. There’s tremendous opportunity for exposure, but an equally large pit to be swallowed into obscurity. Competition is everywhere, so you have to paint yourself properly to stand out!

The Wonderful World of Branding!

Branding represents the values of a company. A company’s brand gives the context for the experience that tells the story of the product.  Why do people relate to different car companies?

The products they sell are fundamentally the same, but each company approaches the emotional connection to the consumer differently.  This happens with airlines too! The experience is different, even if the planes are not.  Relationships are built with the consumers, different ideals relating to different people.

A Unique Relationship

Branding is a great way for companies to stand out. Sometimes branding is simply exuded by the people who represent the company. Elon Musk is Tesla. Very little money has been spent on marketing for Tesla, but it’s a house-hold name because of its celebrity CEO.

Think of branding as a relationship. What do your favorite brands say about you? Do they influence how you dress?  What you drive? PC or Mac? Coke or Pepsi?  Today it is nearly impossible to not be someone’s customer; many people make that a point of personal expression.

Product design in the future is relying heavily on brand. If there’s no established relationship, someone else will swoop in and create those connections with your audience.

This Time, It’s Personal

Physical design choices help establish both branding and overall product design. Colors, fonts, and photographs can create something that feels friendly, or mysterious, or professional. Imagine you want to download some photo editing software. There are three apps that come up in the search results – one looks intricate and complicated, one simple and enticing, and one janky and weird. Trustworthy-looking design aesthetics can make all the differences.

Accessibility is a highly friendly aspect of product design that ties in neatly with a positive, easy-to-use brand identity. As discussed in our last blog post, cloud-based product concepts bring a lot of problem-solving solutions to the table. The ability to make maintenance adjustments, remedy errors, and increase functionality with new features, all without any action on the part of the user, is incredible. It’s just like magic.

From Problems to People: Product Design Is Strategically Important

The discussion surrounding product design, branding, company values, and individual business goals encompasses many different things. These themes share many common threads, but vary so wildly from company to company. Individuality in any organization should be celebrated. Embrace the uniqueness of your audience and go beyond “What’s the problem that needs solving.” Get into the aspirations of the people who are using them.

Keep Reading: 5 Product Design Innovation Examples

Sightbox Product Design Studio is a Product Design Firm for founders, by founders. Visit us on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, LinkedIn and Twitter.