Every product can be broken down into three elements: function, value, and appearance. These elements are permanently intertwined with each other to create a balanced product design. One cannot exist without the others and no product can exist without all three. After all, how can you have a functional product that has no value? Or a beautiful product that has no function? As a product developer, you can work diligently to de-emphasize certain features to suit your personal agenda but, in the end, your product will still have a function, an appearance and some value. How well you maximize the balance of those elements will ultimately dictate how well your product stands out in a sea of competition. Every decision you make along the product development timeline impacts the balance of these elements. Optimizing that balance is where you find your market success.
Industrial Designers, with specialized education and training in creating a positive human experience, understand how to find the ideal balanced product design including function, value and appearance. Industrial Designers specialize in transforming abstract concepts such as value and approachability, for example, into concrete deliverables that include form, color, and user interaction. These deliverables guide and shape a product through the entire product development process. At SIGMADESIGN we interface with other professional disciplines and provide a critical element in a balanced product development approach. Let’s look at how Industrial Design contributes important human centered perspective for each of these elements which results in a balanced product design as a whole.
First, function is the most critical area of product design. It’s here that you define the entire purpose of the product, its reason for being, and the development cycle tied to it. While there are myriad issues to solve in the functional development arena, it’s the approach, perspective and focus of each group working on the product that determines the success of functional development. Industrial Designers bring a Human Centered Approach. Through the entire lifecycle of a product: Design, Manufacture, Use, Maintenance, Repair and End of Life, we consider how a human will interact with the product. Is the design compromised for tall or short people? Is it easy to access and replace consumables? How intuitive is the product to use? Does this product elicit an emotional response strong enough to result in a purchase? We not only recognize potential issues with the product, we also provide variations on the architecture to improve the human experience. Every discipline involved in the development of the product brings their own critical perspective and focus, and it takes every discipline to create a truly successful product.
Second, Industrial Designers find and reveal the meaning of value for both stakeholders and users. For instance, one person may be concerned about the functions vs cost ratio, another may have calculated how much easier this product could make their life. Someone else might be thinking about how envious their friends are going to be when they show up with this new doo-hickey. It’s an Industrial Designers job to listen, ask questions, look for patterns and, sometimes, make a judgement call on how to balance these various value propositions. We use the design phase of the project to question and confirm what value means through design exploration, variants, and refinements. For instance, we can seek to define a value concept using various forms, colors and interaction points to guide the discussion and help provide focus on what that value concept actually means, and what form it may take, to meet the ultimate goals of the product.
Third, with considerations of appearance, Industrial Designers filter all abstract, physical, and emotional concepts through a lens of specialized education, experience, and intuition. Designers draw from experience in: design research, color theory, directing visual flow, balance and proportion, anthropometrics (measuring the size and proportions of human bodies as applied to design), ergonomics, manufacturing processes, and human interaction. At SIGMADESIGN, we explore a range of concepts that seek to define the most promising overall direction for a given product. Then we use successive reviews and refinements to optimize the design in preparation for downstream development. Industrial Designers use a broad education and experience base to create desirable, easy to use products that differentiate themselves in the marketplace.Again, by applying education, experience, and intuition as well as utilizing all available tools as designers, we further define the product. We use Form, Color, Material, Finish, Controls, and Feedback to determine how a product is, for instance, Approachable yet Luxurious, Rugged and Refined, or Exclusive but Inexpensive. Through our design process, we create concepts that simultaneously fit within and push the boundaries and assumptions that have been set by discussion with the client and through research about end users. Each concept will push certain boundaries, and all of the concepts will aim to define the boundaries of the design in different ways. Each successive iteration and down-select continues to refine the boundaries until we have a set of deliverables that accurately defines the product for development. These deliverables may include, detailed sketches, CAD models, physical models, and renders that downstream processes such as mechanical engineering, software/firmware, and electrical engineering will use to further develop the product.
As Industrial Designers, it is our mission to create products with the ideal balance between function, value and appearance. We unite abstract, concrete and often seemingly contradictory thoughts, feelings and real-world needs into a set of concrete deliverables that help define a product’s success and long-term market relevancy. As part of the larger product development landscape, Industrial Designers provide a critical human centered approach for successful and balanced product design.
This article was written by Patrick Scranton, Industrial Design Manager at SIGMADESIGN. You can learn more about Patrick and the balanced product design approach the ID team uses at SIGMADESIGN in the video.