Ask lots of questions

Five questions for better product design

Design drives innovation, opens up uncontested markets, differentiates products and services, attracts customers, strengthens branding, embodies a company’s values and improves recognition. According to the UK Design Council, every $1 spent on design generates $20 of revenue.

As an industrial designer, I have the privilege of seeing this in action every day by engaging with business owners, manufacturers and individuals who have ideas that they are developing into sellable products. In my experience, before engaging us, these people have already answered five questions that are critical in deciding whether or not an idea has legs (if it’s good or not). Here they are:

1.     Who is your market?

Your market is made up of real people that exhibit certain characteristics. They have similar values and beliefs about the world, they have dreams and aspirations, feelings and challenges in their lives. You need to know what these are and how it is to be one of these people. Statistical data like average income and age are less important. Qualitative data is much more powerful in understanding who these people really are.

2.     How big is your market?

While qualitative data helps you understand who your market is, quantitative data allows you to work out how big your opportunity is. Calculating estimates of the size of your market will help you decide whether you will be able to sell enough of you product to make it worthwhile.

3.     What is their willingness to pay?

People often behave in strange ways when money is involved. That’s why it is essential that you understand your future customer’s willingness to pay. How much will this thing cost? The answer to this question (in $$) drives many of the decisions that designers need to make and will ultimately determine whether or not manufacturing your product makes sense.

4.     How are you going to sell it?

There are many channels that you can utilise to get your product to your customers. You need to understand the advantages of online sales, physical stores, wholesale and licensing arrangements. Choosing one or a combination of these will impact the services that you need to establish to be able to sell your product (like online ordering systems, point of sale transaction equipment, a shop, distribution network, warehouse and so on).

5.     What are your brand values?

What human characteristics does your brand represent? Branding is so much more than a name and logo. Your brand values allow your customers to work out whether or not their own values align with your businesses. You can’t cater to everyone’s values (and you don’t want to) but you do want to make sure that the values your brand represents are in line with your market’s.

Ask lots of questions

There is one really powerful tool that you can use to discover the answers to all these questions; talking. Asking questions and, more importantly, listening carefully to the answers will give you the richest and most valuable information. This information is first hand and, most importantly, comes from real people who may well buy your product in the future. They are worth listening to.