Good design goes beyond how a product looks, and can be the primary driver of commercial success. Essentially, successful design must go beyond aesthetics. A strong design must incorporate how individuals interact with products and their connection with the product.
The use of design to evoke a specific reaction, emotion and need can be applied to any challenge. Some of the most successful products in the last 20 years had great design as the main market advantage. However, the value of design is still often under-appreciated and misunderstood in the product development process.
Common Pitfalls in Product Design
Often, design can be viewed as only an aesthetically pleasing factor for the finished product, and not directly contributing to the overall function of the product itself. Failing to incorporate design early in the product development process may mean the final product does not meet all user needs, resulting in a poor user experience.
One of the most common design pitfalls is focusing on technology rather than user needs. Frequently, inventors or product developers believe a technology solution predetermines product design and the users’ interaction with a product. Rather than focusing on technology, product development should start with the needs of all stakeholders (for instance, doctors, nurses, patients, staff, hospitals, etc.). Not completing a full design process can lead to disappointment for all stakeholders, with a poor design and a failed product.
The Empathetic Design Process
Strong focus on empathetic design is the solution to these product development pitfalls. Empathy is a designer’s ability to not only understand the products functions, but imagine how users will interact with the item within their environment. This requires putting end users’ needs in the front of the product development process. Instead of starting with a technology to design around, the empathetic design process starts with the visualization of problems end users face and the potential benefits the new technology may bring. Product designers and industrial designers have to assess the current market. They can do this by conducting in-field research, considering all stakeholders, exposing problem areas, and defining areas of opportunity for advancement. Solving problems for end users in the first step of product development generates a strong finished product users will enjoy, connect with and prefer.
Empathetic design begins with design thinking. Before designing new products, it is crucial that the designer understands the users’ interaction with the object and any challenges the user faces. The best way to discover users’ problems is by observing users within their field environment, while noting their every interaction, intent, workflow, efficiency, and movement. It is important that observations are made directly because humans easily adapt to inconvenient environments and tools, making it difficult for end users to identify a cause of dissatisfaction.
“Product designers and industrial designers have to assess the current market. They can do this by conducting in-field research, considering all stakeholders, exposing problem areas, and defining areas of opportunity for advancement.”
This observation process should consider all aspects of the user experience, including the complexities caused by external factors such as the environment of use. This direct observation of end users leads to the identification of design opportunities in which all other design components follow. This process results in improved user experience and products that are differentiated from others in the market.
The End Product: Better Overall Experience and Brand Reinforcement
By investing in the design process up front and focusing on empathy for the end users, your company can exceed your customers’ expectations. In addition, empathetic design can help reinforce your brand and create customer loyalty.