The intersection of creativity and utility, product design is the perfect playground for imaginative and inquisitive minds capable of thinking both in abstract and practical terms. Ideally, it provides concrete value to our everyday lives while also pleasing our sense of aesthetics.
Product design is neither art, nor science – it is both at once, and therein lie its specific challenges. It primarily has to perform a practical function, but it also has to look good in order to be accepted.
Aspiring product designers may lean more on one or the other side of the equation, but in order to design a quality product they will have to find the right balance of common sense and self-expression. Achieving this is not easy, and there are no proven recipes, but there are certain guidelines and principles that can point you in the right direction.
Provide real-life solutions
Let’s start with the basics. The success of any popular product is firmly rooted in reality. While some of them could very well stand as art pieces in their own right, they primarily become popular because they provide solutions to existing real-life problems. Therefore, the starting point in designing any new product has to be a specific problem that needs to be addressed. No amount of creativity and aesthetics will convince people to embrace your product if it doesn’t provide them with any practical value. History is full of such examples.
Now, after thousands of years of human progress, the field for true innovation has grown quite narrow. Still, that should not discourage you. Regardless of the flashing ads, not many products are dramatically innovative. At best, they provide slight improvements on the previous accepted version of the product. That is perfectly fine, but your slight improvements have to address an existing practical need within the buying public.
Don’t over-do it
Most creative types have a need to build upon previous work (whether their own or not), to improve, enhance, and make things better. This is a noble impulse that often leads to major breakthroughs and creations of lasting value. Still, product design is a field in which this impulse is best restrained.
When approaching product design, try to resist your urge to tinker and add too many unnecessary elements (features, colors, details). Your primary responsibility is your product’s functionality, and over-indulgence in excessive details, regardless of how cool or useful they are, may simply draw attention away from the product’s primary purpose. Too many add-ons may make a product feel complicated and unintuitive.
There should be a concrete purpose to every design element, If a feature does not support and fortify your product’s main purpose, then maybe it shouldn’t be there at all.
Is there such a thing as a recipe for successful product design? The short answer is ‘no’. The long answer is also ‘no’, but with more detail. For instance, this Master in Product Design in Milan, led by industrial designer Marc Sadler, suggests that there are no foolproof recipes for success, insisting that the only path to quality design is a comprehensive study of every aspect of the craft. This is the approach you must apply to your work, giving great thought and attention to every little detail, from the initial idea to the final polish. In an oversaturated market, your respect for your craft and your eye for details can truly make your product stand out.
Mind the aesthetics
After we’ve spent the majority of previous lines convincing you that functionality trumps aesthetics, let’s now establish that aesthetics also matter. Regardless of the type of product, its looks and the user experience it provides are crucial elements of product design. A well designed product should be elegant in its practicality, a perfect blend of style and utility that feels natural and intuitive.
Product design is just as susceptible to passing trends as any other creative field. Still, countless products have stood the test of time and are still in use today, instantly recognizable and simply timeless. This is because their design has done a great job of addressing an existing need, and did so in a manner that was both aesthetically pleasing and user-friendly. When approaching your design, try to envision a product that will be used not just by your peers, but the next generations as well. Elegance and purpose never go out of style.
Ultimately, quality product design is all about always maintaining focus on what truly matters and presenting it in a smart and convenient way. Embrace these guiding principles and your creative compass won’t lead you astray.