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I watched a smiling young lady tossing the tiny nect MODEM, awed that her products are awarded three Red Dots (already!), marked best on Clutch and CES, featured on Mashable, and sold at Apple stores. Meet Evgeniya - an experienced and tech-savvy Head of Design at Concepter.
“It’s all about observing and asking yourself questions. And going through all the pains of designing a product.”
This year’s winner is a tiny 4G portable modem created with the idea of helping people jump to work in a cafe or hotel, while commuting, while traveling, or working from home — each time enjoying a stable, fast and secure internet connection.
In terms of hardware design, it meant:
This is a challenging task, and a young startup didn't only make its crowdfunding campaign a success but also won the Red Dot Award 2020 for the high quality of design.
This article is an exclusive conversation with award-winning designer Evgeniya Medvedeva about the industrial design and design contests. Here are her insights, along with the intriguing predictions about what’s next in the world of product design.
Product design starts with the understanding of how humans interact with the physical world, how muscle systems work, and what the limitations are. This is the basis for the development of ergonomic products — the ones that are easy to use and minimize injuries.
The principles of ergonomics include:
Due to the pressure to innovate and differentiate the product from the competition, some product designers violate the basic rules of ergonomics. While rolling out such products can earn you some sales and short-term media coverage, they are never part of a sustainable business.
As soon as customers realize there are more comfortable alternatives, they eagerly switch to them. The comfy user-tested products are the ones people recommend and buy as presents to friends, relatives, and coworkers. Thus, never let creativity override the rules that otherwise contribute to excellent product design.
Many entrepreneurs come to us with a product idea in September, hoping to launch a Kickstarter campaign in October (and thus tap into millions of users rushing for Christmas presents).
Dear owners, it just doesn’t work this way.
It takes around half a year to design a hardware product, and it is impossible to speed up the involved processes substantially:
Remember, good hardware designers, say no to bad projects. Thus, reconcile with the predicted time for development and don’t get discouraged by the hurdles. The more issues and challenges designers tackle in the process, the more elaborate and flawless product you get in the end.
3. Maximize the Value, not Features
In product development, it is vital to start with the plan for realizing the value of the product, not the list of features it might have. The simple truth is that modern users appreciate simplicity, and too many features and buttons often stand in the way of seamless, intuitive use.
When looking at how to enhance the product, keep asking yourself a simple question, “Does the feature add value to the product?” If it doesn’t, it may well confuse the customers.
Not to mention a ballooning project cost!
It might be surprising, but a tiny button or a slot can make the product two and even three times more expensive to produce. Unfortunately, unless you work with experienced product designers, changes in budget estimates can become evident only on the production stage, which equals disaster for startups and low-funded companies.
Analysis and prioritization techniques help you define nice to have product features and manage to absorb the associated expenses. However, it is still worth taking time to decide whether to add them to the current project requirements or reserve them for future product releases.
Another goal to pursue is creating products that are sustainable by design. The first thing that comes to mind in this relation is producing goods from recycled or at least recyclable materials.
However, everything is not that simple.
First, sustainable design is about making the products durable to perform their core functions for a long time, which cuts the need to produce new products and the associated carbon footprint.
Second, it means reducing the use of resources and energy along the entire product lifecycle: starting with the transportation of raw materials and finishing with packaging and delivery of purchased items.
Last but not least, it requires making the products easy to disassemble into separate components:
If this is not done and the product is difficult to decompose, such hardware design would ruin the good intentions of using recyclable materials.
Needless to say, sustainable design is about making change, not buzz. For example, shouting out loud that the product is made of recycled aluminum as Apple did, is more about marketing than impact, since this material is recycled back into itself over and over again in up to 98% of cases.
What might be appealing and intuitive for the creator is not necessarily so for the ultimate users. We have had this painful experience of looking at the coworkers who could not manage to attach two pieces of the product to make it work (something that seemed logical and straightforward for the project team just a few minutes before). We can confidently propose:
Doubt your assumptions!
It is also a good recommendation to follow when developing product positioning, choosing target markets, or defining a target audience.
Assumptions are only good as long as they are a starting point for testing and getting hard facts to back them up, not as premises for making decisions.
Why create award-winning products?
There is much said about industrial design contests, the labels ranging from “absolute necessity” to “nuisance and the waste of time.”
Emotions aside, companies benefit from awards that serve the testimony of the quality of design — Red Dot among them; designers, too, get the chance to stir up and challenge themselves.
And it is not about the process of designing a product — you do not usually develop a design for the sake of competition. Instead, you just do your best and suddenly think the item might be a great candidate for an award. That’s how it happened with Nuka or nect MODEM — two of our “red-dotted” projects.
However, submitting work to design contests is an excellent exercise in product design vision, as you need to give a simple yet engaging and precise description and up to 5 images of your product, all pointing out what makes it unique.
More than that, design competitions educate industrial designers around the world and set new industry standards to achieve.
After all, that’s how you learn quality design — you give a critical look at the popular and award-winning products and analyze what they owe their success. If you are serious about product design, it is natural to try to be part of this process.
Quality industrial design is not about reinventing the wheel. It’s about attending to customers’ needs and seamlessly solving their pains, each time taking the existing solutions one step further.
Some solutions may be a challenge for product designers, but just a logical and expected feature for end-users. For example:
Overall, the design will continue to aim for elegant forms, intuitive use, and sustainability in all of its dimensions: economic, environmental, and social. And such better designs will be often created with the help of computer-aided engineering (CAE), the technology that is successfully leveraged by large corporations and increasingly available to SMEs. These are the trends that cannot be reversed any time soon.
Design competitions make you push beyond the limits, have your product tested by renowned jurors, make the product get a competitive edge on the market, and even have your say in the world of design. This whole experience makes getting an award in product design a worthwhile endeavor.
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