The word ‘process’ can often feel very abstract, and as a result, it’s not always clear what processes are. They can also be quite convoluted and lengthy; with the end result typically being something that is fairly simple and straightforward such as a report or a spreadsheet. The same applies to product design processes; there are many different versions of them, depending on who you ask. However, what most people will agree on is that they are an essential part of any product design process; they provide us with structure and help us to take our ideas from ‘idea’ to final product. There are many different versions of a product design process, but every version will have some commonalities such as research phases and problem-solving methods.
What Is the Purpose of a Product Design Process?
Every business has a product design process. Put simply, it’s a step-by-step guide to producing a product or service; a means by which we can ensure that we are producing something that is suitable for the customer and profitable for the business. Although the precise nature of your process will depend on your industry and the product you are designing, the product design process will usually comprise of the following:
- Research – What are the needs and problems of your customer? Are there any competitors?
- Define – What is your product/service? What will it do? How will it do it?- Build – How will you go about producing your product? Will it be manufactured or will it be software?
- Test – How will you pilot your product? How many units do you need?
Why is a Good Process Important?
The process that you use to create your product will have a significant impact on the speed of the design process, the quality of the product, and your ability to meet customer expectations. If you have a poor process, it’s likely to be costly and time-consuming.
There are three reasons why a good process is important:
- It will make the design process easier and more efficient.
- It will allow you to produce a product that is fit for purpose.
- It will help you to identify and solve problems early on in the design process.
The research phase is where you gather information about your product and your customer. You should start this process as early as possible, as it will inform most other aspects of the product design process.
R&D (research and development) are terms that are commonly used in manufacturing, but for a product designer, the research phase is just as important.
- It’s important to remember that you are not designing yet; you are designing the product design process itself. That means that you will need to include everything from defining your problem statement and customer journey, to outlining your research strategy.
- The research phase of the product design process will typically include:- Customer research – What are the needs and problems of your customer? Are there any competitors?
- Product/service definition – What is your product/service? What will it do? How will it do it?
- Competitor analysis – Are there any similar products on the market? What can you learn from them?
The define phase of the product design process is where you define the problem that you are going to solve.
You will do this by creating a problem statement and a need statement.
- A problem statement is what you are trying to solve. For example: “Students lack the motivation to study outside of class”.
- A need statement is the outcome that your product will produce. For example: “Students will have the motivation to study outside of class”.
- Once you have identified the problem and need, you can start to define the solution.
- The product design process is not linear; you will go back and forth between all of these phases many times before you have a finished product.
The build phase of the product design process is when you go from identifying what you want to do, to actually doing it.
- – The build phase of the product design process will depend on the type of product that you are designing.
- – If your product is manufactured, you will need to decide on the materials and processes that you are going to use. If it is software, you will need to know what programming language you are going to write it in.
- – The build phase of the product design process will include:- Product/service definition – What is your product/service? What will it do? How will it do it?
- – Product design – What materials will you use to produce your product? What programming language will you write your software in?
The test phase of the product design process is when you test your product with real customers (ideally). This is not just a case of getting one or two people to trial your product.
This is a full-blown pilot; you will have a certain number of units ready, and you will distribute them to a select group of customers and have an idea of what you expect that outcome to be. Maybe you will want to know how easy it is to install, or if it is easy to use.
There are two main types of testing that you can do:
- User testing – This is where you ask your target customer to try your product and provide feedback.
- Pilot testing – This is where you produce a limited number of your product and distribute it to a select group of customers.
Product Design Process: Summary
The product design process is a cyclical process that all product designers go through when designing a new product. The process starts with researching the problem, followed by defining the problem and creating a solution for it. Once the solution has been created, it goes through a build phase, followed by testing the product to ensure it’s fit for use.