To someone who doesn’t look too deeply, marketing can make any product seem unique. But to truly set a tech product apart, great design is key.
Design doesn’t describe just your initial plan for your product. It’s a process that begins with conception and continues throughout the development of your product and beyond.
The design of your tech product will influence every other process associated with it, including development, marketing, and sales.
Make sure you get it right with these five steps to make yours stand out in a crowd:
- Choose your user wisely.
Design starts with your user. Take smartphones: It might seem tough to enter a market dominated by the likes of Apple, Samsung, and Microsoft. But all of those companies cater to adults.
If you’ve heard of the Jitterbug, you’re proof that targeting a niche user — seniors, in this case — can give you a foothold in the market. On the other end of the spectrum, a cell phone for kids might be just as popular.
Notice how the choice of user influences design decisions down the road. Kids don’t need internet connectivity, social media, and app overload. And their parents probably are not willing to pay $1,000 for a device that their kids may well lose in an hour.
No matter how crowded a market seems, there are always gaps to be filled. The key is finding one that’s large enough for your product to turn a profit but small enough to have gone unnoticed.
- Know your user’s problem inside and out.
Put yourself in your user’s shoes. When do they experience the problem you’re trying to solve? How painful is the problem? How much would they pay in order to solve it?
Never make assumptions about your user’s problem. Consider the epic fail of Google Glass, which set out to solve a problem that consumers really didn’t have. Google’s designers didn’t realize that nobody needed a heads-up display for the world until it was too late.
Once research bears out the problem you’ve identified, designing around it requires a ruthless approach to clutter. Resist adding features to your product just because you can.
Instead, look at everything you do in the design process in the context of the consumer’s problem. Designing with purpose means, for example, skipping that shiny metal hardware because you know your user has a budget and because plastic will do.
- Unite function and form.
Consumers like products that are designed to be functional and intuitive. They also want the design to be sleek and edgy. While your product’s purpose is solving a problem, it has to do it while looking fantastic.
Instead of trying to package your technology in a way that makes it look attractive, let the design drive the technology. That synthesis is what makes a truly loveable product.
If you’ve noticed a lot of Jeep vehicles on the road recently, you can thank this design principle. While Americans say they like the look of Jeep SUVs, they’re equally smitten with their functionality. Jeep vehicles’ rugged appearance is rooted in their go-anywhere design.
What if you’re building a software-only tech product? Take the same approach: Does the program’s interface reflect its functionality?
Here, paying attention to the small things can make a big difference: Does the loading screen look like it’s actually loading, or does it simply look frozen?
- Test nimble prototypes.
Not only is testing prototypes of your product mandatory for success, but they need to be nimble. You need to be able to test, adjust, retest, and readjust quickly, or the market you’re targeting will pass you by.
Your initial prototype might be fairly crude, and that’s OK. There’s nothing wrong with a cardboard mock-up, as long as it gets all your designers on the same page.
As you perfect your prototype, your product should get more sophisticated and “real.” Use each iteration to test a specific feature or functionality, and do your best to keep other variables set.
Take advantage of technologies like 3D printers, vacuum casting, and computer numerically controlled (CNC) machining for prototypes. These methods produce prototypes that are authentic enough to test yet nimble enough to be changed as needed.
A solid yet nimble prototype can get you real-world feedback from your customers. And nothing works better for making your product stand out than your customers’ advice.
- Learn from others’ successes and failures.
Neither reinvent the wheel, nor repeat another product’s failures. Do your homework.
Look at all the similar tech products on the market. Read case studies about their development and customer reviews to learn what users like and dislike. Duplicate their successes and avoid their failures in everything from design to development to rollout.
According to Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen, 30,000 new products are launched each year, and 95% of them fail. The ones that succeed don’t necessarily use the newest, fanciest technologies; they simply meet users’ needs in elegant, easy ways.
Think in contrasts: If you’re building an e-reader, you might notice that all the popular ones use an electronic ink display, rather than an LCD or OLED screen. What about the ones that fail? Some are too pricey, others try to be a traditional tablet, and still others are saddled with content restrictions.
Just from that quick review, you should have a good sense of the table stakes for your product. What you do differently is the key: Maybe no e-reader has tried a subscription model, much as magazines and newspapers do. Would users be willing to rent the hardware if delivered free, exclusive reading material?
The bottom line is, tech products exist in extremely crowded spaces. But that doesn’t mean you can’t design and develop one will catch consumers’ attention.
All it takes is strategic design. If you can keep your focus on what your users want and how they want it — and off bells and whistles — you won’t just stand out from the crowd. You’ll be a crowd-pleaser as well.