[Editor's note: This blog post originally ran in March 2016.]
Designing a new product is as easy as having a killer idea, right? Not right. There is a lot that goes into designing, developing, manufacturing, marketing and selling a new product. Millions of products have failed (take these 12 notorious product flops for instance), and chances are that all of them had at least one of the below mistakes in common. Save your product – and business – from inevitable demise by avoiding these common product design mistakes!
The best products are designed at the intersection of aesthetics, performance and cost. Understanding the balance between these (and other) factors is a must. Lay out a complete road map of your design goals and how you will reach them. While superior aesthetics may help you rake in sales initially, if your product doesn’t perform well, consumers will not come back for more – and they’ll probably tell their friends not to either. Study your consumers to discover the right balance of aesthetics, performance and cost, and remember to never compromise quality!
Establish clear communication with your supplier or contract manufacturer (CM) when it comes to product design & development schedules, and remember that first production runs are often riddled with delays due to design changes and tweaks. If you are planning a marketing launch or event to debut your product, communicate this to your CM early on so they are aware and can work within your deadlines as much as possible. It is also a good idea to keep your launch schedule as flexible as possible to account for typical first production run delays.
If your product must meet specific standards, make this known as soon as possible, as it may play a major role in the design process. If you don't outline strict tolerances for your product, your supplier will design, manufacture, and test to existing standards for that product category.
Let's say the standard heat tolerance for your product category is 150°F, and the supplier makes your product to meet this standard. However, your customer requires that the heat tolerance be 180°F. You may receive a sample from your CM and realize that the material begins to melt at 170°F, so you reject the sample. In this case, you should have mentioned your stricter standard to your CM before the sampling process. Now your supplier must make changes to meet the 180°F heat tolerance requirement, which will certainly cause a delay in production. So, be clear about any special requirements or specific testing method requests to keep your schedule on track.
Are there existing patents that will affect your design? Will you need to avoid any specific design elements or technologies? Or could you potentially claim territory for yourself? Doing some preliminary IP research could save you from nasty copyright issues down the road. If you are unsure where to start, your CM should be able to guide you. They should also recognize when you have a new patent opportunity on your hands.
Regardless of how incredible your product is, it’s not going to sell unless it falls within the appropriate price range for your ideal consumer. Spend time researching your target market's average discretionary income, willingness to splurge, and competitors’ pricing on similar products (and if their products actually sell) to nail down the proper price point to ensure both sales and profitability.
Have you ordered a prototype of your product? Have you spent a good amount of time interacting with it? Have you played through different scenarios your consumers might face? Performance is not the only important factor! Consumers will naturally expect the product to work well. While aesthetics shouldn’t be prioritized over performance, appearance still matters. Consumers want to buy something attractive, functional and long-lasting. Put your product into the context of a user's experience. How/when/where/why will consumers interact with your product? With so much competition in largely saturated markets, you can’t afford not to focus on the experience.
How can you honestly say you know your customer if you haven’t conducted extensive market research? This is where many companies get off track. Design around data, not hunches. You may think you know everything about your customer, but seemingly minute subtleties can make or break your product’s success! Also remember to design for your customer, not yourself. It is easier than you’d think to fall into designing to your own liking rather than considering your customer’s unique wants and needs. Invest in consumer research. You won't regret it.
What are the key benefits your consumer is looking for in a product? Marketing your product is less about promoting its features and more about identifying advantages for your customer. This is your selling point! Consumers want your product to make their lives better and easier, so keep that in mind as you design. What advantages does your product have over others currently on the market? What makes yours unique?How will you solve your customers’ problems? As mentioned, you must know your target market intimately to answer these questions. An interesting product isn’t good enough – if it doesn’t solve a real problem, people won’t buy it.
Another point to keep in mind is not setting unrealistic expectations on a product, which could lead to returns and unfavorable reviews. So, it’s not just about failing to sell your product – it’s also about making a consumer feel affirmed in what they’ve purchased to prevent negative reviews and returns (and hopefully lead to the opposite reaction: glowing reviews and additional sales).
Realizing you overlooked an important product requirement after (or even halfway through) the design process is not ideal. Study industry standards that apply to your product, as well as retailer-specific requirements and optional certifications (e.g., LEED, Energy Star) that customers might be looking for when shopping. Also be aware of regulations that must be met under US acts such as the Consumer Product Safety Act and the Federal Hazardous Substances Act.
Consumers want the latest version of everything. In their minds, the newest version must be the best one yet. Especially in the tech world, being behind the curve will not get you too far. Stay updated on product trends and developments. For example, a common DC power adapter is now dated; today’s power option is a wall plug-in USB, which consumers will expect.
Modern consumers also expect a lightning-fast time to market, which can be overwhelming for a small company or entrepreneur who is new on the product design & development scene. You most likely will find yourself up against competitors who are experienced and able to move things along quickly and efficiently. Particularly if you are in the tech world, your product could become obsolete virtually overnight, so timing really is everything. One way to ensure a quick speed to market without compromising quality is to partner with a CM that offers design services and has years of experience.
If your workflow is incomplete or tasks are jumbled, work will back-track and cause delays. It's possible that your design reaches a complete form but ultimately cannot be manufactured. This is commonplace and can sometimes kill a project after a large investment. Avoid this by detailing your process before getting started and meticulously updating the flow as developments are made and milestones are met. While being proactive is generally a positive thing, don't jump the gun and skip ahead to tasks your project isn't ready for, as this could result in redoing work down the road. Clearly assigning responsibility to each task will also help keep the project on track and identify areas of weakness should they arise.
Companies should always focus on playing to their strengths. The Make vs. Buy debate will undoubtedly rear its head at some point during your project. Keep in mind that one of the biggest delays in designing comes as a result of a company trying to execute a task at which they aren't efficient. This is when it pays to partner with a CM that understands more complex manufacturing processes. You may think you can save money by figuring everything out yourself, but if your execution is poor, the monetary savings will be for naught, and you'll find yourself back at square one with less time on your hands.
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