Modern Product Design

Apr 24   •  Design Thinking

So what does modern product design mean?Businesses are taking too long to mature around a more sophisticated ways of creating a digital product with creating something that is importantly useful. 

But there is a modern approach, which can be adopted, to deliver better experiences.  That modern approach is no secret. It is practised by a matures businesses and brands around the world, yet more broadly the market is not maturing quickly enough to ensure that we are delivering the right solution for the end user.So what is modern product design?  Well, we can no longer think about an app or feature in isolation. You know, the brands that want to design and build an iPhone application that has assumed the features, you know, X, Y, Z. 

It’s the wrong way to start thinking about how we can create something, most of all compelling and differentiated in the market. There needs to be a more strategic approach. One that is broader in its mindset, multi-channel, and fits needs of business and the customer more intrinsically.The problem is with traditional silo design.  It is inefficient, it is limited in its thinking, it is expensive and the end the results can be very confusing, but also it can be very inconsistent across screens, devices, even something as simple as iPhone versus Android.  With the benefits of thinking more strategically, you can create efficiency, and you can create an extensible solution that bridges silos and business units and create a lean approach to delivering creativity and create something that reinforces what that brand is aiming to achieve.

Of course, achieving the right level of thinking and sophistication requires many skills and it is not just about designers crafting a solution. You need to incorporate skills from product management, the business, design, technology, symbiotically to ensure that we can deliver the right end-solution and create something that is far more compelling.  But I want to focus on the design thinking that is such an important component, and it allows the delivery of a much more progressive product to development methodology.Within design, let’s focus on two key areas. Design thinking and design language. This approach is about creating something meaningful and useful. But does it work?There are businesses and brands within healthcare, within education, within global warming, within kind of clean water that are applying design thinking and design language to solving some significant problems in the world today. 

We are also seeing design thinking and design language methodology used in agriculture where businesses are using these techniques in their business to solve irrigation, plant health and maintenance problems.So to achieve this goal, design thinking and design language, mindsets need to move.  We need to stop thinking about just creating something.  I mean, we need to stop considering design thinking and working on the particular problem rather than a potential end state that we have achieved.Design thinking is not about making something more marketable, and we need to move away from the concept of just designing something for marketing reasons.  It is a much more fundamental approach trying to innovate and be more progressive in an organisation and more progressive in the way that we gave the consumers.  It is very much about designing something to deliver a creative that solution to that problem. 

For example, Amazon is innovating using voice recognition technology. No doubt, you have heard about Amazon Echo. In fact, a lot of brands are trying to adapt to that, and that is trying to think about problems in these cases rather than necessarily just designing something that people have kind of assumed the work.Design thinking focuses on problems, needs, wants and desires of the consumer. As well as an acute view of their culture, the context of the whole they live in but importantly also, the motivations that that end customer works too. 

Combine that with a comprehensive design language where we can bring the brand to life and delivering the customer experience as much more engaging and importantly much more personal.  Of course, within the design language and design thinking methodologies your journey does not stop there.  We need to go beyond just design, and the language itself needs to become a living, breathing coded organism to ensure that once we have moved past the design phase, the continuing influence and the ongoing development and the future state of any given digital product remains fluid but also consistent.So let’s look at the language in more detail.

What we are creating is an overarching scheme that guides the unification of the design process across the services and experiences.  It sits above any form of screen, device – large or small – and it is a very abstract definition. It is designed to inspire, it is intended to inform, it aims to get creative licence to anybody who can touch the product, be they designers, be they engineers, be they product strategists, be the business.  Importantly, the design language does not prescribe the end solution. 

So from a software development perspective, there may be key components, but more importantly, this assumes a series of guidelines in their understanding of what that brand experience is an importantly, what it a means to an end consumer.Design thinking and then design language sits above any potential channel.  It sits above branding; it sits above any marketing channel; it sits above a digital platform where we can start to really and truly understand what that end consumer should experience and how they are supposed to engage with this. 

Because design thinking can give any digital product purpose and it can create consistency and unification whichever touch point that may be.  And very importantly, it sits across any potential business silo.  As you see in a lot of brands that we work with, what, where it is delivered to one particular business unit could be completely different to another and the unification through design thinking to ensure that there are a meaningful, consistent experience and any potential touch point that sits across these business silos. 

Applying this methodology and approach does require a bigger upfront investment, but businesses can benefit from continued and improved inefficiencies, increased rapid development and delivery and overtime, the cost effectiveness of this level of upfront thinking does create a significant advantage.So, for us, design thinking is very much about the new marketing.  It is about transcending any of those kinds of traditional ways of thinking. It’s the new brand experience.  Digital is the new brand experience. 

It is the most comprehensive way for any consumer to engage with the brand.  But also, it allows technology to have a vote.  Gone are the days when the brand team has a style guide has had brand guidelines that say if it does not adhere to this, that is not on brand.  The design language allows us to have a vote from the technology standpoint.There are a series of success stories over the last few decades and these mature businesses that have been adapting these methodologies with great results.  Apple is a very obvious example, but rather than showing their modern day examples; it’s interesting to look at Apple Snow White.  Snow White was designed to create an iconic viewpoint of what that brand exists as and especially when this was delivered decades ago.  It is about helping create cut through from the brand. 

All of the design treatments of the physical architecture of these devices, the linings, the size and depth of the lines are all intended to give this very iconic viewpoint of what Apple stands for and what they are. 

Some of the important treatments of the design language such as the physical lines are supposed to create the sense that the device is smaller than it is; they tend to make people realise that it is more compact.There is also then Google material design, which is a very contemporary but also very famous design language.  The UI within the Google material design language is supposed to give a sense that the experience is carved out of real objects casting shadows as if it is some real paper. It is also the imagination of the Design Team at Google that it is a shape shifting experience, so there is again no context of a screen or device and it gives consistency where previously on Android and platforms, there was none.Google seems to have now innovated once more and by considering what the immaterial design looks like and again trying to re-communicate what brand experience looks like, feels like now with some of the voice and audio-based devices, actually what it sounds like as well and trying to understand how that experiences are then communicated from an audio perspective as much as with a screen, a tap.The iconic design language is very relevant in the automobile industry. 

Mercedes and BMW are certainly some of the most iconic brands leveraging design thinking and design language across all of their produced vehicles.  For example, within BMW, the grill, while intended to create some level of aerodynamic benefits to the actual car itself, it is also designed as an incredibly iconic design compartment which now features on all of their cars.  The Hofmeister kink which is the rear window on every single BMW is a design treatment which has included from as far back as 1961.  And what it represents is the fact that the car is rear wheel drive. But also the fact that this came synonymous every single vehicle itself and you can start to deconstruct a BMW and almost see it is a BMW by the fact there is a BMW just by seeing some of this critical components and really, that is the potential path grinding power of design language.From a digital standpoint, Spotify is a great example of how transformative this kind of thinking can be. Back in 2012, Spotify was a mess.  iPhone was different to Android, which is different to the web which was again different to the desktop. The whole experience was fragmented, and there was no continuity from a feature perspective and design perspective and even down to very small components like buttons and it was very confusing as consumers were starting to engage with Spotify and across device environment. 

Move ahead a few years, and Spotify has implemented their design language system which they call GLUE. Global Language for a Unified Experience.  Now, Spotify’s presence is incredibly consistent and extremely compelling from a design standpoint, which has driven an increased level of product development from an efficiency’s perspective and also allows them to begin to call additional customers, deliver much stronger results on the market.  So with all those examples, you do not necessarily need to take my word for it; there are a significant number of brands out in the market today who delivered some very compelling work.As a recap, there are a few points, which I think, are important takeaways. 

Mature businesses are already adapting this level of thinking and this level of sophistication within the work that they do and the digital products or indeed non-digital products.  Design for all problems, not solutions.  Do not jump to the answer.  Do not think their solution will be this.  Try and foster what that problem is and come up with relative solutions and then the methodology will help support that.  Invest in your design language.  The investment upfront will indeed reap even if this is a higher investment at the start of the process.  Believe in better but importantly a more consistent experience. 

Design language and design thinking will help you deliver much more compelling experience wherever your brand may exist.  Finally, use design language to create something much more meaningful to the ultimate user and end consumer base, and which in turn will make it more memorable.

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