Why is Product Design So Hard? (Part 1)

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels
September 29, 2021
written by
Kerry Chin
Product Design

Product Design is a fascinating field because it touches on so many disciplines. Depending on the project or challenge, it might be necessary to embark on a whole new area of research before conclusions can be drawn about which path to take or which solution makes the most sense to implement. Even the simplest product can have layers upon layers of intricate, interconnected decisions that influence the design, the way that the solutions are implemented, the way users react to the device, and ultimately, the business success of the final creation. Clearly, it is a field that requires both divergent thinking and convergent thinking, analysis of problems and synthesis of ideas.

This article is the first in a series of blog posts that provide our insight into the field of Product Design.

Ideas are nice, but solutions to real world problems are important

We believe our role as designers is to innovate. We want to use our teams' collective skills, experience and even instincts to solve problems that have meaningful, real-world impact. In many ways, product designers are ideally suited to solving problems because of the multidisciplinary nature of the work. In this profession, experience and creativity are equally important and a process called design thinking is at the root of this problem solving process.

Design thinking involves taking the time to fully understand the problem at hand. With the help of a diverse team of domain experts, researchers and curious minds, a team is able to explore as wide a range of possible ideas and solutions. The key here is that preconceptions, biases and, to some extent, limitations, have to be set aside for later consideration. Through prototyping and testing, possible solutions are tried and iterated. Finally, the most promising ideas, along with the new discoveries made, are implemented in whatever form suits the problem at hand.

This general process helps people from different backgrounds apply creativity and contribute to a collective effort. It's quite simple to write about but not trivial to put into practice. More involved design projects could last years and involve hundreds of people (or more).

"No one has ever done this before"

Following from our belief that product designers are well suited to solving problems of any size or scale ­– even social, environmental or organizational ­­­– we are commonly faced with the issue of a client wanting to achieve something that has never been seen or done before. Naturally, that is what innovation is about. It is the design team's job to work through the design thinking process, gathering data and analyzing the collected information for opportunity. This all takes time, and a willingness to challenge conventional solutions. With the right team of professionals working alongside each other, progressively more developed prototypes can effectively serve as both proof of concept and catalyst for newer and better ideas. These stages of refinement, alteration and revision allow for a deep understanding of the problems and how they relate to the users. In time, these hands-on methods, along with a skilled implementation, can lead to meaningful solutions. And then there’s aesthetics, CAD, and all the other areas of work that have to be integrated!

The Five Stages of Design Thinking

The value of design thinking is recognized by top organizations and Fortune 500 companies wield it with great success. Governments, political groups and public policy makers can all benefit from the human-centric ways in which design thinking allows space for asking questions as well as identifying more problems than even originally defined.

An excellent article on the design thinking process can be found here.

The path to inspiration is rarely a straight line

If you’ve read this far, it should be pretty apparent that a big part of the product design process is asking questions, digging for information, doing research, studying the user, and then identifying where to focus and how to tackle each challenge. It’s rarely a straight line!

We often use this diagram to explain to new clients that they should prepare for a potential path that feels similar to the winding road shown above. It’s little wonder that clients find it hard to plan design projects and even harder to get a handle on how long something will take.

With our experience, and a solid definition of the product that we are setting out to design, Altimus is able to bring a good level of clarity to many product design challenges.

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