Designing Products That Wow & Sell

During a recent interview with a journalist, I saw her scowl at her smartphone. She was disappointed that the smartphone did not provide the basic functionality she needed the most: easy voice recording. Every call and SMS disrupted her recording and forced her to go back and restart the recording. Her requirement was simple: “resume-able” recording, which would be an easy-to-implement feature if the designers had the foresight to plan for the way the consumer would use the device.

Considering real use scenarios during product design can make a significant difference in customer satisfaction levels. Use patterns can better define everything from the industrial design to the internals: the look, feel, and size of the product, GUI, sensors, middleware, and silicon. And the more evolved designers are increasingly adopting this approach across the infotainment and industrial spectrum.

How does this approach work in a real infotainment scenario? Let's take a real-life look at a mobile handset manufacturer addressing the North American market. The manufacturer has segmented its market into three target user segments — teenage gaming and social users, office productivity users, and Internet browsing and voice services users. Each of these segments has diverse design requirements.

Teens expect their mobile devices to handle intensive graphics and data communications. The office goer values connectivity and enterprise integration, while the no-frills user expects good audio and a good display interface. As a result, the form factor, icons, keys, GUI, and every subsequent layer from middleware, operating system, and chipsets to battery management are different for each segment. For the final outcome to be a use-driven product, these requirements need to be kept in mind in the design architecture and manufacturing stages.

To implement this approach, a mobile handset manufacturer needs the ability to:

  • Study and anticipate customer use.
  • Conceive the product in its entirety. This calls for an ability to relate competency across technologies, like industrial design, GUI, presentation workflows, networking, audio/video/graphics technologies, mobility applications, middleware, silicon, and power management, to the identified use patterns.
  • Put together all the building blocks within a stringent time frame, price, and performance point. This calls for interdisciplinary delivery teams, program management, and quality to provide a multifunctional perspective and to facilitate the parallel design of product and process to reduce design iterations and production problems.

Developing all these abilities in-house, at a large scale, is an expensive proposition. Most OEMs are finding that collaboration and co-engineering with R&D and engineering service providers help fill the gaps in the capability spectrum and can allow significant improvement in the realization of use-based designs and the speed to market.

In my next blog, I shall discuss how to identify the right R&D services provider to ensure your next generation product fulfills user expectations. After all, the end user is the new crowned king!

23 comments on “Designing Products That Wow & Sell

  1. stochastic excursion
    February 22, 2012

    Designing from a system-wide comprehensive spec is a ideal many organizations would like to achieve, and some i the defense and aerospace sectors have managed to achieve it.  In other organizations where designs reach down to the component level, a “ready, fire, aim” methodology prevails, and engineers who are designing under time-to-market constraints have to live with this.  A case in point is Facebook, where in his IPO letter to shareholders, Mark Zuckerberg acquainted people with guidelines widely used by his company: “Done is better than perfect,” and “If you never break anything, you're probably not moving fast enough.”

  2. Cryptoman
    February 22, 2012

    I have three more key tasks to add to the list to make a successful product:

    Testing, testing, testing…

    I cannot emphasise how important it is to thoroughly test a product from a use-case perspective before selling it. Also, testing has to be done by independent parties, i.e. the developers of the product MUST NOT be the ones who are doing the final testing. This is because the developers know the weakest parts of their design and therefore the tests they are likely to design will only address those weaknesses. Therefore, they are likely to miss the top-level and the most obvious tests such as the one mentioned in this report.

    The best way to test a product is to give it to someone who is completely outside the design process of that product with a mission to make that product fail. It's incredible how such people are able to break a new product within a matter of minutes by trying out their own 'creative' methods. I have seen examples of this so many times in the past where the developers often ended up saying: “Oh, I never thought of that use-case!”. It's all about looking at the functionality from a completely different angle.

    A product is expected to do “what it says on the tin” and that can only be ensured by means of proper testing. Failure to do so can cause a great product to be perceived as a great failure in the market.

  3. _hm
    February 22, 2012

    It is more interesting to innovate and design products with future need in mind.


  4. prabhakar_deosthali
    February 23, 2012

    With whatever use case scenarios we may visualise while designing the products , a customer may still find some unique use case which is most important for his use , but has remained overlooked in the design stage.


    The key to quickly be able to implement such added use-case is having modular software and especially avoiding hard coding of the features. That way any mix and match of the basic features becomes possible with minimum changes at the hardware interface and driver level.

  5. mfbertozzi
    February 23, 2012

    I've found really interest your post p_d; it allowed to get back in my mind how for example famous software vendors have developed in the past specialized communities populated by final users in order to increment products test cases before the launch of their final version. I am not so updates, but it seems that attitude has been moved for example on other sectors, not related to specific products, as Google projects for istance.

  6. Jay_Bond
    February 23, 2012

    @cryptoman, you couldn't of said it better. These manufacturers need better testing before releasing their products. It never fails that after a new release somebody runs into some issues that the manufacturer wasn't thinking of, the user blasts the phone all over the internet and you have a huge failure for the manufacturer. Send these units to be tested in real world environments by the types of groups they're aiming for.

  7. Eldredge
    February 23, 2012

    Isn't this wehere aps come in – creating new functionality that wasn't available in the original design software?

  8. Barbara Jorgensen
    February 23, 2012

    @Sanjay: the process you outline makes a lot of sense: create building blocks of basic functionality and then differentiate farther down the line. I am finding there are actually fewer choices within a single brand. For example, I can't replace my current Samsung phone with a comparable model becuase they don't make it anymore. But I don't need 75% of the functions most newer phones offer. Nice to have? Sure. But for day to day, nope.


  9. ITempire
    February 23, 2012

    “The manufacturer has segmented its market into three target user segments — teenage gaming and social users, office productivity users, and Internet browsing and voice services users.”

    Sanjay, I love this idea. However, such differentiation to attract customer segments is only practicable when you have huge investments ($), flexible and sophisticated machinery and smart human capital. Not every manufacturer can afford that.

    Also I can think of a segment which wants all of them. I am talking about myself. I feel all of them needful probably because of my age group. Such a product, that fulfills all needs may be costly to produce, hence price inefficient, but certainly this would have a demand too.

  10. elctrnx_lyf
    February 23, 2012

    THis is definitely a right way to design the products but as we know some times its not so easy talk to distinguish the users for products like mobiles. Users expect to see everything working fine sometimes. The most challenging part would be to invest money into resources to actually develop the right framework. As you advised taking support from engineering services companies can be helpful.

  11. prabhakar_deosthali
    February 24, 2012

    I agree with you Eldredge

    The finer differentiation in a product , or a n innovative feature using the same building blocks can be achieved by creative Apps, without having to redo the design and go thru the debug-test cycle for the whole product.

  12. t.alex
    February 25, 2012

    It seems to solve the problem of 'resume recording', we really need high-quality apps with rigorous testing before deployed to the users. So far only Apple enforces this process.

  13. Clairvoyant
    February 25, 2012

    T.Alex, Android apps would be difficult to control in that way as they are open source.

  14. Wale Bakare
    February 25, 2012

    Clairvoyant i agree with you. But its openness should be an advantage to other mobile OSs, where plethora of design minds can knock off rivals.

  15. bolaji ojo
    February 27, 2012

    Sanjay, One quite successful company is noted for saying it doesn't conduct surveys of its customers to determine what they need. In fact, the ex-CEO once said the company gives customers what it believes they need and that customers don't know what they need. Do you subscribe to this viewpoint?

  16. t.alex
    March 3, 2012

    Clairvoyant, do you mean the Android app developers need to opensource their code?

  17. Clairvoyant
    March 4, 2012

    Hi, T.Alex. What I was meaning is there is not only one company who creates, or controls apps for Android, because it is opensource. Therefore, it is very hard to control the apps and ensure they are fully tested before being realeased to the public.

  18. Sanjay Gupta
    March 12, 2012

    Completely in synch. The understanding of how to test the functionality and defining it in the early stages + getting the testing done by an independent entity allow faster and more comprehensive product releases

  19. Sanjay Gupta
    March 12, 2012

    Hi Barbara. What you are describing is typical of a product definition approach aimed at being everthing to everyone. With technology (especially for mobile products), the approach needs to to segment the market very sharply – i.e. the teenage phone, the phone for busy moms, the corporate manager phone. They can use the same base platform for the most part. The personalization will come from delivering the original product with limted apps which are targeted to the usage of the identified customer. If the customer wants other add ons, they can download them from an app store

  20. Sanjay Gupta
    March 12, 2012

    Hi Altaf. Ref my response to Barbara. Delivering personalized products is more viable today using apps as a differentiator. For folks like yourself who want it all, the app store is the route. 99% will probably use the base platform + base apps

  21. Sanjay Gupta
    March 12, 2012

    Hi Bolaji. Very relevant point – and also the Innovators Dilemma. Most product managers will take decisions on prioritization of product features/attributes. These will be a combination of what they see as likely usage patterns and what are evident trends. Apple is probably one company in recent times which has created product categories and hence can say that they designed and created a category.

  22. Daniel
    March 13, 2012

    Clairvoyant, I strongly believe that like apple certifying all its apps through I store, android also has to employee a similar mechanism. I read from one of the survey report that there are too many security loop holes in Android and hence may be chances for spy apps to tap your datas and vital info’s.

  23. Daniel
    March 13, 2012

    Sanjay, rather than offering ‘what the customer needs’, is it good to offer ‘what the company wants to sell’? Personally I don’t agree with it, am looking for what I need rather than what is available in market. Ultimately the customers are forced to cope up with the available products in market because they need something to cater their minimum requires.

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