Users expect excellent product design, these 5 steps show how it’s achieved.

Product design can turn a good product into a great product: take surgical instruments for example. The perfect surgical instrument is a seamless extension of the human hand. It makes surgeons better at what they do. It enhances precision, control, and dexterity as it minimizes exposure to physical strain and mental stress. The perfect instrument design connects emotionally with the surgeon, engaging the user on all sensory levels. It produces confidence in the tool and in procedural success.

The perfect surgical instrument is not an accident. More than 30 years of designing 500-plus products have refined our process to five critical success factors for powerful product design. Along the way, we’ve discovered that those five steps for product design excellence are also the path to both business product and strategy innovation. Here’s a quick guide for perfecting product design.

1. Build the High-Function Core Team

Team Composition

I can’t overemphasize the importance of a strong, deliberate, effective core team who represent all factors that impact the overall success of your product design, process or strategy. Consider that some subject matter experts on your team may need to come from outside your company.

A full complement of stakeholders means that each key product design decision will incorporate the prime business issues that influence ultimate success. Be sure to find stakeholders who are also collaborative, innovative, passionate about product design, and equally open-minded and optimistic about exploring ideas and solutions.

Effective Leadership

An effective leader for your design innovation teams will be a profound listener and keen guardian of the product design process. The team leader is also the scorekeeper, developing the metrics for team decision making. The scorecard both evolves through the process and persists in creating clear, concise decision making that is on time and on budget.

2. Pursue a User-Centered Strategy

We’ve found that at the end of the day, a cool design will never win over a design that works right. You’ll create the best product design or strategy by anchoring it to how your end user thinks, feels, behaves, and how the environment—real or virtual—affects capabilities and limits. This is the time to shed all preconceptions and look at multiple paths to accomplish your goals. Engage in lateral thinking: come at your challenge from every angle and don’t latch onto a solution too soon. At this stage, it is always useful to engage your end user or target audience in evaluating various concepts for product design.

3. Drill Down Into Users’ Needs

You’ve listened to your users and they’ve told you what they want and need, and you’ve factored that into your product design or strategy concept. Now is when you don’t believe them! Do not rely solely on user interviews. People are notoriously out of touch with their own behavioral patterns and idiosyncrasies. We call this, “designing to the point of sweat:” how is the existing product or strategy actually used—what happens? What happens at a granular level?

While you are observing how the current product or strategy is used, it is always productive to compare the differences between both elite users and novice users. That distinction invariably produces key insights into user needs, most often from the novice users!

4. Design for 4-Dimensional Humans

The first step in human factors engineering is identifying anthropometric requirements—that’s the variation in human body measurements that must be served by the design. We come in all different shapes and sizes. We also move through time with variability and distinction. Your product or strategy must accommodate the variations in human beings and establish synergies and patterns that reflect how human bodies and minds work. There are natural intrinsic geometries in the human body and physics in the human body in motion that are inextricably tied to the human mind. Those linkages will relentlessly impact how your product is used or how your strategy works.

5. Testing: Ideas v. Concepts v. Prototypes

Here’s where you are taking the deep dive into product design detail. Testing ideas, concepts, and prototypes requires persistent attention to specifics to ensure that your results are an expression of your research outcomes and not skewed by how you have done your research. Evaluate your early-stage concepts with illustration boards/screens—with 3D sketches for product designs and process flow charts for strategies—so your users can knit together the overall picture of your concept.

To effectively test your product design, you need to get a model into users’ hands; for a strategy you need a pilot program to sort out the features and benefits and acquire real-world feedback. After these tests, you are ready to create your prototype product or program. Testing your prototype is your last opportunity in the design of your “first generation” product or strategy to fine tune features and mitigate changes downstream. With foresight, you have built into your process the provision for continuous improvement—revisiting Step 4—as you accumulate real-world user data on your product design or program.

The Net-Net

The roadmap for designing an innovative product or strategy never varies, but the pathway has twists and turns built in by the variability of the design teams and the product or strategy goals. Develop insightful leaders and inclusive design teams who embrace originality, reject preconceptions, tenaciously learn from and about their users, remember the intricacies of the human body and mind, and test tirelessly. You will find that your team has produced high-performance products and strategies that succeed in the marketplace.

Author bio: Dr. Rutter is a leading specialist in the research, human factors engineering and design of healthcare products and is the leading worldwide specialist in the ergonomic design of hand-intensive products. His work ranges from robotic surgical systems, surgical instruments and medical devices to smart phones, computer input devices and wearable technology to food and beverage and beauty and personal care products and packaging.
bryce@metaphase.com | www.metaphase.com | Twitter: @BryceOnDesign | Instagram: @BryceOnDesign | LinkedIn: Bryce Rutter, PhD