The road to bad product design is littered with good intentions. As much as good design is key to a successful product, bad design can be the death knell of even a great initial idea.
Lessons can be learned from products that have failed in the past. It’s usually much easier and cheaper than learning from your own product failure. A killer idea can be killed by poor design, a lack of foresight, and too much ambition without enough market knowledge.
Here, we’re going to look at some key principles to follow with when working with a product design service to create a new product and check out some examples when companies didn’t listen to them. Some surprising big hitters make it into the curriculum of how to avoid product failure. Read on and see which ones you recognize.
Solve a Problem
This is one of the basic ideas when it comes to designing something that you want people to spend their hard-earned money on. It seems pretty obvious to say, but you actually need to have a reason for consumers to buy what you’re selling.
There’s a very limited market for useless but pretty things. If you’re not actually going to be making things easier or adding value to someone’s life, is it really worth their hard-earned money?
Furthermore, if someone has already solved a particular problem, then your product should find other ways to improve. Mobile phones had been around for a long time before Apple entered the market, but they did it better than everyone else on the market at the time.
No one likes a copycat. Unless you can completely disrupt an industry by doing things better, you need to make sure that you’re doing things that are innovative. So, defining a problem for you to solve is really one of the most important steps of the product design process.
Who Got This One Wrong?
Did you own a Zune? Nope? Neither did we, nor many other people at all.
Microsoft decided to enter the MP3 player market very late. Digital music players launched in 1997 and were quick to gain popularity when the iPod was launched in 2001. Apple’s product did things better – the full product design was simple and effective, putting music on to your device wasn’t scary and technical.
A whole five years later, Microsoft launched their MP3 player, Zune. It brought nothing new to the party. There were no advances made, no new technology, nothing innovative about how it looked.
At a time when around 77% of portable digital music players were made by Apple, the Zune gave no one a compelling reason to jump ship. There wasn’t a problem for it to solve, so no one wanted to buy one.
Know Your Market
When coming up with a concept for your new product or design project, ask yourself: who is going to be buying it? Sometimes this is going to be very specific, like parents of children aged two-to-three years old, or it could be extremely broad, like environmentally conscious consumers.
Whoever you’re aiming your product at, you need to make sure that you’re going to be meeting their needs, and importantly, their expectations. For example, if your target audience is the 60+ demographic, then having fiddly buttons and a complicated app that requires decent tech skills probably isn’t going to go down well.
Researching who is going to buy your product is key. Once your designer or design engineering service has got your idea on paper or rendered as a 3D model, take that out to your potential market. If you’re a 40-year old man aiming to sell to middle-aged women, you better get their direct feedback before you get too far in your product development.
What Companies Made This Mistake?
You can ask your customers as many questions as you want. The key is to actually listen to them.
The Ford Edsel was a mega flop for the company. They had spent a lot of time and money asking consumers what they wanted, and they roundly ignored the advice.
Customers told Ford they wanted something small and economical. The car was big and clunky and had poor fuel economy. When a company so blatantly ignores the wishes of their customers, they deserve to fail, and fail the Edsel did.
In a similar vein, the Google Glass pleased no one. The first people that are going to take on a high-end, high-spec, high-tech product are the technology geeks. They’re the ones who are going to play with it and find uses for it, build the apps for it.
These are also people who tend to understand and care the most about privacy and security. These were just two of the key features missing from Google’s ill-fated foray into wearables. By not really getting what their early adopters would look for in their new tech, they guaranteed that no one would want to buy one.
Offer a Great User Experience
Solve all of the problems in the world, but if users can’t actually make your product work, then it’s not getting bought.
One of the keys to modern design is to make your product intuitive. It should feel natural to use, not overly complicated, cumbersome, or taxing to get working for you.
The user experience is where the form and function of your product are going to collide. What’s the point of your new kitchen gadget looking beautiful but having a load of knobs to twist and buttons to push just to chop a carrot? Similarly, you can have the world’s most efficient domestic windmill, but if it’s clunky, no one is installing it.
The user experience is only going to be understood when you start to develop a prototype. What may look like an obvious button to press to make things get moving could get completely lost on users when you start testing a model you’ve had built.
Lots of products need add-ons to make them work—think apps for smartphones or coffee pods for home coffee machines. Asking someone to buy your gadget and then having nothing to use it with is also not a great experience.
Make sure you’re testing your product outside of the people who have been involved in its development. The people who have had ideas bounced off them, your family who know exactly what your new product is—of course, your prototype will be intuitive to them. Find some willing strangers to play with your concept design without instruction and see how quickly they get it and how much they like using it.
Which Big Ideas Missed the Mark on This?
3D and even 4D movies were heavily invested in, but how many people do you know who own a 3D TV?
The pitfalls of 3D movies are well known:
- They’re not great for spectacle-wearers
- They give people headaches
- The glasses aren’t very robust
- They’re expensive for creators to make
None of these bodes well for taking technology into peoples’ homes to be used regularly. The need to wear glasses to watch TV adds an extra step or more—you don’t just have to put the glasses on, but go through the effort of finding them in a busy family home.
Added to the bad user experience, there wasn’t much, if any, content for TV owners to watch. If you’re asking a consumer to invest big money into your big idea, you need to make sure that there is an ecosystem of products supporting it.
Don’t Over Engineer Your Idea
Once you’ve got your solution to a problem, made it different enough to add more value than your competitors, and made sure that it’s going to satisfy your intended users, you need to simplify.
Not only will a simple, sleek design appeal to potential buyers, it should also keep costs down. Having a hinge that allows 360° movement might make things look super swish, but is it necessary and how much more does it cost?
The Internet of Things is a buzzword; everything is getting connected and has a smartphone app with Google Assistant and Alexa capabilities. Does your product really need this?
In a lot of cases, yes. Having new products that can be controlled remotely might actually be solving problems. However, a water bottle with WIFI or an app for a bicycle pump could well be overkill.
Who Took It a Step Too Far?
There’s nothing like a fresh-squeezed juice after the morning workout. But do you really need a juicer connected to WIFI to get it ready for you?
The people behind Juicero certainly believed so. Their big and heavy juicer could only be used with their own packs of pre-packaged fruits and vegetables. It was WIFI equipped, but with no discernible benefit for the expensive technology being inside.
The big problem came when someone tried squishing their juice packs by hand. Turns out, a good human squeeze had the same effect as a machine that retailed for a few hundred dollars.
Microsoft also took things a step too far with Microsoft Bob in 1995. He was a virtual assistant to help people find their way around their computer.
Bob’s problem was that he took up so much processing power on computers of the day, there wasn’t enough space for any other programs to run. The product had been made far too complicated if it was creating problems while trying to fix something that could have been helped with better design.
Keep an Eye on Costs
By looking after your expenses, it doesn’t mean that you should start cutting corners. A luxury-level product should have high-quality materials and components, of course. It’s essential to spend your money in the right places.
During the process of creating, you should start to understand how much your manufacturing process is going to cost. You will be choosing materials and components and know whether you’re going to do bulk production in a factory or hand-make each item to order. Neither is wrong, but you need to know what you’re spending on the process.
A prototype is going to be very useful when looking at your costs. When you have to buy anything needed to make a prototype, you can use that opportunity to find bulk buying discounts. It will also give you a product to present to potential factories so they can give you an accurate guide on their charges to produce.
Who Made This Mistake?
The designer of the Coolest Cooler was on to something. Things were going well:
- They solved a problem by combining a normal cooler with a blender, Bluetooth speaker, USB charger port, a bottle opener, and wheels to cart it around.
- They knew their market; they put the tech in there to appeal to twenty- and thirty-somethings going to festivals or on camping trips.
- Nothing seemed superfluous to requirements – the design appeared to hit the mark with all the add-ons.
The product was marketed on Kickstarter, and the funding target was hit and exceeded. Each contributor gave $165 for a product that shook out at $235 to manufacture. Each one the company would have sent out to a backer was going to cost them money.
The final nail in Coolest Cooler’s coffin came when they decided to retail it on Amazon for $400 before fulfilling the pre-orders. The spiraling cost had led them to try and recoup the losses they’d face on the Kickstarter orders, and it backfired, completely.
Bonus lesson: don’t annoy the internet.
Hundreds of products don’t make it. It’s nearly inevitable that ideas will not be perfect, and sometimes you will fail.
Dealing with the failure and learning lessons from it is what will make you more successful. When you look at most industry leaders, they faltered at the start of their business, or have screwed up on a product at some point along the way.
So many mistakes have been made before that it would seem elementary to repeat them. If you’re offering a CAD service, make sure your idea fixes an issue and that it’s going to appeal to the people who you want to use it. Additionally, make sure it’s easy to use, not too complicated, and maybe the most important lesson is to make sure that you’re actually going to be able to turn a profit.
If you’re interested in getting help with a product design, let us help. Cad Crowd has a network of the most experienced freelancers in the world. We’ve worked on plenty of complex assignments for name brands like Tupperware. Find out how it works.